The Shortcomings of Memory

When I taught in China in 1994, I had a dust-up with an associate dean in the China School of Journalism. I decided later, maybe even a year or two later, to write something about it, although for the life of me I don’t remember why I waited so long.

I took pen in hand and began what was a very damning piece about this dean. I painted him in the most negative of terms and showed myself to be one fine fellow.

Then I found the notes I had made right after the dust-up. Turns out, it wasn’t quite the dramatic situation I had penned and the dean didn’t look all that bad. I think I was still the heroic figure, but more subdued. (Every man’s a hero in his own story, I like to say.)

I write about this in the context of what’s going on with Brian Williams, the anchor of NBC News. Various sources have come forth to undermine Williams’ telling of a helicopter attack in Iraq in 2003. When he first told the story, he was not in the helicopter that was under attack, but as the years moved on and he repeated the story, the story got more dramatic and less credible.

Let’s face it: Stories, cheese and wine get better with age. But in the case of stories, you should always check your original notes. I bet Williams wishes he had.

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