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This article was originally published as:

Joseph, S., & Rickett, C. (2017). Embedding, embellishing and embarrassing: Brian Williams ‘misremembers’ but social media reminds him. Ethical Space: The International Journal of Communication Ethics, 14(1), 32-41.

ISSN: 1742-0105


190301 Journalism Studies| 200101 Communication Studies| 220199 Applied Ethics not elsewhere classified

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Brian Williams enjoyed the trust of his organisation and audience for 10 years as NBC’s Nightly News anchor and Managing Editor. But on the night of 30 January 2015 during a broadcast, his high profile status began to unravel. Venerated as a reliable news source, Williams was forced to explain his legendary story of survival one day in the skies above the Iraq War of 2003. His version of an attack on a Chinook helicopter he was travelling in was circulated and valorised by his own corporation for 12 years. But when American soldier Lance Reynolds and other military personnel challenged the veracity of his version, the corporation was forced to suspend him. Williams equates his rewriting and false reporting of this historical event as an act of ‘misremembering’. This assertion is a clear breach of the Society of Professional Journalists’ code: ‘Ethical journalism strives to ensure the free exchange of information that is accurate, fair and thorough. An ethical journalist acts with integrity’.[i] However, the focus of this paper is on the viral audience social media response and the ways in which the production of mocking online tweets and posts served to critique and ridicule Williams’s claim of ‘misremembering’, thus holding him to account. And as such the ongoing circulation and preservation of memes satirically re-appropriating historical moments, continue to shame Williams and his journalism practice.


[i] SPJ Code of Ethics, available online at, accessed on 12 June 2016


Used by permission: Ethical Space: The International Journal of Communication Ethics and the authors.

© 2017 Institute of Communication Ethics

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