Why are people upset at Brian Williams?

Brian Williams, the NBC news presenter, is off the air for awhile until the brouhaha over his war fibs dies down.

Writing on Salon today, Steve Almond is using the break to wonder what it is we’re all so fired up about.

A news person lied while overly dramatizing a war story? Why not the type of factual reporting that was done instead?

If Brian Williams wanted to display genuine courage — if he was interested in actual journalism, as opposed to the elaborate construction of war propaganda — he might have spent his time in Iraq questioning the motives, costs, and intended goals of our invasion.

In fact, as the bright public face of a huge journalistic army, Williams might have questioned the unctuous and ultimately bogus justifications our leaders offered for invading Iraq in the first place.

To howl about how Brian Williams has a “credibility problem” because of his famous fibs is to miss the true nature of his fraudulence: that he and his team were happy to render the Iraq War as a form of entertainment, a righteous crusade in which badass high-tech G.I. Joes defend the holy Christian homeland by slaughtering and eventually civilizing Islamic savages.

I don’t mean to single Williams or NBC out. With a few notable exceptions, the television coverage of the war was carefully stage-managed by Department of Defense. We were shown approved footage of rolling tanks and magical bombs, and precious little in the way of dead bodies, American or Iraqi. Our leaders made promise after promise about how the occupation would proceed, nearly all of which proved false.

That’s an assessment New York Times columnist David Carr avoids, preferring instead to grade Williams on his job: show business.

We want our anchors to be both good at reading the news and also pretending to be in the middle of it. That’s why, when the forces of man or Mother Nature whip up chaos, both broadcast and cable news outlets are compelled to ship the whole heaving apparatus to far-flung parts of the globe, with an anchor as the flag bearer.

We want our anchors to be everywhere, to be impossibly famous, globe-trotting, hilarious, down-to-earth, and above all, trustworthy. It’s a job description that no one can match.

A lot of TV reporters went to Iraq to report on the war. Even those who did so accurately missed the big story.