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posted by martyb on Sunday February 08 2015, @04:55AM   Printer-friendly [Skip to comment(s)]
from the DRAM-is-to-SRAM-as-Human-Memory-is-to-??? dept.

Brittny Mejia writes at the Los Angeles Times that while some are accusing Brian Williams of deliberately lying about his account of being on a helicopter under attack in Iraq, researchers have long said that memory is not as straightforward as we tend to think. Elizabeth Loftus, a professor of psychology and social behavior at UC Irvine, has been conducting research into planting false memories of events in people's minds and found that people can be convinced of these made-up memories through the power of suggestion. "Memory is susceptible to contamination and distortion and supplementation. It happens to virtually all of us," says Loftus. "This could easily be the development of a false memory." According to Daniel Schacter we create these false memories because our brains are designed to tell stories about the future. “Memory’s flexibility is useful to us, but it creates distortions and illusions,” says Schacter. “If memory is set up to use the past to imagine the future, its flexibility creates a vulnerability — a risk of confusing imagination with reality.”

Williams isn't the only one involved in the incident who recanted claims and blamed his memory. Pilot Richard Krell originally said that he was at the command of the "second bird" in a formation of three Chinooks, with Williams riding in the back of the "second bird." Krell said all three of the helicopters came under "small arms fire," lending support to the stories Williams told over the years about being "under fire" in Iraq. However Krell later recanted after the newspaper Stars and Stripes published a story contradicting his account. "The information I gave you was true based on my memories, but at this point I am questioning my memories," Krell said. "For the past 12 years I have been trying to forget everything that happened in Iraq and Afghanistan; now that I let it back, the nightmares come back with it, so I want to forget again."

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  • (Score: -1, Flamebait) by Anonymous Coward on Sunday February 08 2015, @04:58AM

    by Anonymous Coward on Sunday February 08 2015, @04:58AM (#142377)

    New for nerds?

  • (Score: 5, Insightful) by khchung on Sunday February 08 2015, @05:33AM

    by khchung (457) on Sunday February 08 2015, @05:33AM (#142378)

    If Williams is just a random dude and remembered something wrong when asked, then yeah, this kind of memory mix-up would be understandable.

    But let's not forget that Williams's job was a reporter when it happened, it was his JOB to get the facts right. If his own helicopter were under fire, then he should have, once gotten back to safety, noted down the date, time, which heli, and the people inside. And should consult with the pilot on the more precise location of where it happened, interviewed with some of those others in the heli to get a full picture, preferably *BEFORE* reporting it to the world, or at least publish corrections later.

    If reporters just report stuff from their memory, then we might as well just ask any dude off the streets to do so.

    • (Score: 4, Informative) by Anonymous Coward on Sunday February 08 2015, @05:41AM

      by Anonymous Coward on Sunday February 08 2015, @05:41AM (#142381)

      He did get it right. He's told the story multiple times in the decade+ since it happened and you can see the evolution of it each time he's told it, starting out pretty close to accurate and then inch by inch until it ended up where he is now. Memory works by reinforcement and because of that it is entirely unsurprising that each incremental change "overwrote" the previous version in his recollection. It is like a game of 'telephone' but instead of passing a message around between people in real time, you pass the message from your long-term memory to your short-term memory and back again each time you repeat the message.

      • (Score: 5, Insightful) by frojack on Sunday February 08 2015, @08:51AM

        by frojack (1554) Subscriber Badge on Sunday February 08 2015, @08:51AM (#142396) Journal

        No, that's not what happened.

        He got away with a small lie. Nobody caught it.
        Years later the lie grew. Still he got away with it. Maybe nobody else remembers, maybe everybody there thinks he was talking about a different mission.

        The lie grew, people applauded.

        He knew all along he was lying. But nobody contradicted him.
        He ran with it. He never expected to get caught.

        Don't look for excuses for him. Don't try to make scientific theories to forgive him. This isn't a game of telephone. It was simple self aggrandizement.

        He just lied.

        --
        No, you are mistaken. I've always had this sig.
        • (Score: 0, Flamebait) by Anonymous Coward on Sunday February 08 2015, @01:38PM

          by Anonymous Coward on Sunday February 08 2015, @01:38PM (#142437)

          > The lie grew, people applauded.

          You are encouraged to cite one case of people 'applauding' any of the versions

          > He ran with it. He never expected to get caught.

          He is at the very top of a profession that is all about being on the record and yet deliberately told conflicting stories while on the record expecting that no one would look at the record.

          Your version of events requires that Williams be simultaneously highly skilled and completely incompetent in exactly the same same area of expertise. You might find that plausible, I do not.

          • (Score: 4, Informative) by frojack on Sunday February 08 2015, @09:39PM

            by frojack (1554) Subscriber Badge on Sunday February 08 2015, @09:39PM (#142543) Journal

            The lie grew, people applauded.

            You are encouraged to cite one case of people 'applauding' any of the versions

            See here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GwtxVjNVDBU [youtube.com]

            He is at the very top of a profession that is all about being on the record and yet deliberately told conflicting stories while on the record expecting that no one would look at the record.

            Yup. Exactly so. Grandiosity knows no bounds.

            You still seem to be laboring under the delusion of his sainthood.

            --
            No, you are mistaken. I've always had this sig.
            • (Score: 0) by Anonymous Coward on Sunday February 08 2015, @11:07PM

              by Anonymous Coward on Sunday February 08 2015, @11:07PM (#142556)

              > See here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GwtxVjNVDBU [youtube.com]

              Just watched it and I don't see applause or really any comment at all about him being shot down. It was a tiny part of the story that passed quickly without comment.

              > You still seem to be laboring under the delusion of his sainthood.

              You seem to be laboring under the delusion that if he's not a saint he's shit.
              I am laboring under the belief that he is human.

              • (Score: 2) by frojack on Monday February 09 2015, @02:35AM

                by frojack (1554) Subscriber Badge on Monday February 09 2015, @02:35AM (#142588) Journal

                Just watched it and I don't see applause

                Turn up the volume. You don't SEE applause, you HEAR it, several times during the interview.

                The story he gives is FALSE. He wasn't there. His chopper was going in the opposite direction, he heard everything on the radio.

                --
                No, you are mistaken. I've always had this sig.
                • (Score: 0) by Anonymous Coward on Monday February 09 2015, @04:20AM

                  by Anonymous Coward on Monday February 09 2015, @04:20AM (#142601)

                  >> I don't see applause or really any comment at all about him being shot down.
                  >> It was a tiny part of the story that passed quickly without comment.
                  >
                  > Turn up the volume. You don't SEE applause, you HEAR it, several times during the interview.

                  I have helpfully re-quoted the part of my post where that was addressed.

                  > The story he gives is FALSE. He wasn't there. His chopper was going in the opposite direction, he heard everything on the radio.

                  No, one detail was false. Everything else he said was close enough. He was in a different mission that was 30 minutes behind the first, ended up landing with the helicopters from the first mission, etc.

                  I see that you are convinced of the saint or shit narrative so I won't be responding any further.

                  Bu tyo

        • (Score: 2, Interesting) by Anonymous Coward on Sunday February 08 2015, @03:01PM

          by Anonymous Coward on Sunday February 08 2015, @03:01PM (#142459)

          Don't look for excuses for him. Don't try to make scientific theories to forgive him.

          It is interesting that you think this is about forgiving him rather than understanding the situation.

          I think that's a great example of the theory that conservatives prefer mythos while liberals prefer logos. You want it to be about him violating social norms, the scientists want to understand the mechanism at work. Your approach offers no solutions other than "hire people of higher morals" which was state-of-the-art a couple of thousand years ago. A scientific analysis leads to other options. Maybe you believe science is useless.

          • (Score: 1) by khallow on Monday February 09 2015, @02:20PM

            by khallow (3766) Subscriber Badge on Monday February 09 2015, @02:20PM (#142703) Journal

            Don't look for excuses for him. Don't try to make scientific theories to forgive him.

            I think that's a great example of the theory that conservatives prefer mythos while liberals prefer logos. You want it to be about him violating social norms, the scientists want to understand the mechanism at work.

            The problem here is twofold. First, the only reason we care is because there is real and perceived harm caused by the behavior. "Violating social norms" is only part of that (more or less the "perceived" part). There's also the matter of a journalist saying a significant falsehood in his capacity as a journalist. That indicates at the least poor judgment on his part, even if it is due to the psychological mechanisms at play (how many times has he heard the big fish story?) and it harms his employer's reputation as well.

            Second, we can't know the motivations, but in this case outright lying is indistinguishable from having this sort of psychological issues. I'm willing to give the benefit of the doubt when the behavior doesn't work to the advantage of the supposed sufferer. That doesn't hold here. When there are significant conflicts of interest which can drive bad behavior, I go with those as the likely cause.

            Your approach offers no solutions other than "hire people of higher morals" which was state-of-the-art a couple of thousand years ago. A scientific analysis leads to other options. Maybe you believe science is useless.

            Finally, the point of this exercise is not to "forgive" bad behavior, but to mitigate the harm from it. Knowledge of the psychological problems of the human mind can help, but really it's been a solved problem for a long time now. And who said "hire people of higher morals" aside from you? Oddly enough for a quote, I can't find it anywhere, either on Soylentnews or the linked stories. I guess it must be another false memory.

        • (Score: 2) by tathra on Monday February 09 2015, @02:45AM

          by tathra (3367) on Monday February 09 2015, @02:45AM (#142590)

          No, that's not what happened.

          He got away with a small lie. Nobody caught it. ... This isn't a game of telephone.

          no, memory really does work like that. [redorbit.com] that the very act of recalling memories changes them has been known for quite a long time now. people remember things that never happened all the time. [time.com] you can even implant fake memories in people [scientificamerican.com] with little effort. memory is not just some hard drive or video camera [livescience.com] that allows you to perfectly recall things all the time throughout your whole life - it just doesn't work that way.

          in the face of this, i think saying that he intentionally lied is a pretty extraordinary claim that needs to be backed up with some kind of evidence. he probably really, honestly does remember it happening the way he describes, even though its not what actually happened. it happens to people all the time; eyewitness accounts are often wrong. [livescience.com]

          • (Score: 2) by frojack on Monday February 09 2015, @04:37AM

            by frojack (1554) Subscriber Badge on Monday February 09 2015, @04:37AM (#142605) Journal

            I'm beginning to wonder how many of you would rushing to the defense of a a Fox New Anchor, or even a Fox reporter.

            --
            No, you are mistaken. I've always had this sig.
            • (Score: 2) by tathra on Monday February 09 2015, @05:09AM

              by tathra (3367) on Monday February 09 2015, @05:09AM (#142609)

              the fallibility of memory has nothing to do with one's political leaning, its just an ordinary, well-established, well-demonstrated fact. pointing it out to somebody who believes that memory is perfect despite lots of evidence to the contrary is not "rushing to the defense" of anyone.

          • (Score: 2) by Reziac on Monday February 09 2015, @04:38AM

            by Reziac (2489) on Monday February 09 2015, @04:38AM (#142606) Homepage

            In other words, memory suffers from data creep.

    • (Score: 3, Insightful) by VLM on Sunday February 08 2015, @12:45PM

      by VLM (445) Subscriber Badge on Sunday February 08 2015, @12:45PM (#142424)

      Williams's job was a reporter when it happened, it was his JOB to get the facts right.

      No its his job to input corporate/government propaganda and output a likeable watchable story. His profession is hardly "professional historian" or "forensic scientist" or "accident investigator" or "engineer". He's the face of a propaganda org, nothing more or less.

      The question no one is asking, is why are the knives out to get this guy? He's in a job field of professional liars and maybe he's not the best but hes not exactly the worst either. Superficially there seems little reason to "get" him vs his competitors. So he said the wrong thing to the wrong person. I'm curious what it was? He made some kind of anti-war or anti-drug war comment on camera, accidentally? He wasn't reverent enough to someone with enough power to trivially crush him? The real story is not being covered and is a heck of a lot more interesting than a glorified fishing story that got a bit out of hand. Or maybe its the other way around and he's being attacked for being too establishment.

      I don't watch much infotainment (seriously? TV news is for white haired people, like 65+), so I have no idea about the guys political biases or little mistakes he may have made.

      • (Score: 4, Interesting) by Phoenix666 on Sunday February 08 2015, @04:47PM

        by Phoenix666 (552) on Sunday February 08 2015, @04:47PM (#142483) Journal

        corporate/government propaganda

        It's telling how many of us are now equating those two reflexively.

        I suspect you are right about why Brian Williams is being crucified for this--some powerful person or interest is out to get him. If telling lies like he did were a disqualification for professional corporate media work, all the talking heads would be replaced by crickets.

        We do know that after years of laying off reporters and killing newsrooms that most "journalists" have devolved to simple stenographers who take corporate press releases, slap a title on it, and call it "news." It's both a cost-cutting measure, because you don't have to pay for investigative reporting, per diems, etc, and a revenue generator because you charge the companies fees for recasting their PR pieces as news. After 20 years of that the traditional news organizations in the United States have been completely hollowed out; Of the significant scoops I can recall over the last 10 years, most, if not all, have been broken by bloggers and foreign news organizations (like the Guardian).

        So to track back the source of this campaign against Brian Williams, we'd have to look at the major NYC- and DC-based PR firms and see who's been spending big with more than 1 of them recently, and sift through to see if any of them might have incentive for driving a smear campaign against him (or his employer, with him as a stalking horse).

        If there are any Soylentils with access to that kind of information, perhaps the press release raw feeds, it might shed some light on your theory.

        There has been a lot in the news lately about the Kochs and other wealthy idealogues preparing to spend $1billion on the 2016 election cycle. This could be part of the opening salvo to completely capture and drive the national narrative. If so, it probably wouldn't even matter that it's Brian Williams, because it would cow every other news organization that didn't toe the line (be that what it may).

        --
        Washington DC delenda est.
      • (Score: 2, Insightful) by Anonymous Coward on Sunday February 08 2015, @06:09PM

        by Anonymous Coward on Sunday February 08 2015, @06:09PM (#142502)

        By that same logic you should be asking who it is that stands to gain from Bill Cosby's scandal. There are similarities - Cosby's issues have been a known problem in the industry for years - he even settled a civil case about it. Or how about that racist basketball team owner - his problems were also known having lost fair housing cases in court for discriminating against black people.

        Most of the time a scandal happens because some event caused the pot to finally boil over. People have been complaining about Williams embellishing this story for years, but it took him going even farther and a tweet at the right place and right time to get enough people to notice and then in snowballed.

    • (Score: 5, Interesting) by joekiser on Sunday February 08 2015, @01:47PM

      by joekiser (1837) on Sunday February 08 2015, @01:47PM (#142440)

      Coming under fire is a traumatic experience for some people. Heck, even observing something nearby come under fire can be a traumatic experience.

      This is something that happened twelve years ago. Everybody's brain has different methods of coping. The night of the attack, Williams claimed that the helicopter _in front_ of him came under fire. Twelve years later, it was the helicopter _in front_ of him *and* his own helicopter.

      From my own experience in Iraq, I can remember coming under indirect fire a few times. I can remember seeing the responding tracer fire. It is what it is. I never returned fire, never saw anything explode. But people that were with me at the time remember differently, and get paid money for the rest of their lives because of it. Their stories have morphed to include people who were standing directly in front of them getting hit directly by mortars, getting injured, and other PTSD from shit that quite frankly didn't happen. And the VA pays them quite handsomely for their mis-remembering. It really blows my fucking mind that people can convince themselves about shit that never happened, then believe it, and *then* convince some psychiatrist at the VA about their lie to get paid 80-100% disability for the rest of their lives. (full disclosure: my testimony has been used to deny at least two people of their entitled VA "disability" because their stories were fucking bullshit, and I even had one VA psychiatrist tell me to stop because I had *also* witnessed something traumatic, but my brain was blocking it out, so take the fucking money.)

      For Brian Williams, I think likely, this comes down to him misremembering probably the scariest thing that happened in his life, and getting caught up in the CELEBRITY that comes with being a government-sponsored talking head war hero. I have no doubt Williams got caught up in being the hero to the point that he *actually* believed the story. It also wouldn't surprise me if some of the others on his convoy also "mis-remembered" this event, and were convincing him that his story was true, so that *they* could get VA benefits.

      The saddest part of all of this is that our culture gets caught up in the celebrity of the *news reporter.* I agree with others in this thread, that this is likely another media-sponsored distraction to take our eyes off the real news.

      --
      Debt is the currency of slaves.
      • (Score: 2, Interesting) by Anonymous Coward on Sunday February 08 2015, @02:04PM

        by Anonymous Coward on Sunday February 08 2015, @02:04PM (#142447)

        Is VA disability for the event or for the effects? I expect it is for the effects.

        And so under that interpretation it seems reasonable that people who are traumatized while under the care of the military deserve disability. I'm not arguing that there aren't scammers, there will always be scammers, but if someone actually believes they are shell-shocked, then it doesn't really matter how they got that way. For the course of treatment and for medals like purple hearts it does matter, but the question of disability should be whether or not you are disabled.

        • (Score: 2) by joekiser on Sunday February 08 2015, @03:11PM

          by joekiser (1837) on Sunday February 08 2015, @03:11PM (#142463)

          To be honest, I don't know what the VA's criteria for disability is. I always assumed it was for events or injuries that prevent you from being able to return to full duty, or injuries that prevent you from finding gainful employment in the civilian world afterward.

          But there has to be a *cause* for there to be an effect, which with many people, I do not remember a cause ever happening.

          Six years ago, I saw firsthand how people with frivolous cases were tying up VA resources, preventing those with actual injuries from being seen. PTSD was the buzzword and it meant instant $$$ for the rest of your life, and if you could show in any way that you were somewhat affected, you got paid. It was disgusting, and what's worse, anybody who calls out these fakers gets pummeled by the public for not "supporting the veterans." Fast forward to 2014, and we saw the "VA scandal" that resulted in the resignation of Gen. Shinsheki.

          --
          Debt is the currency of slaves.
          • (Score: 0) by Anonymous Coward on Sunday February 08 2015, @04:40PM

            by Anonymous Coward on Sunday February 08 2015, @04:40PM (#142482)

            > But there has to be a *cause* for there to be an effect

            Sure. The question is are immediate and linear causes the only valid ones. For example, does living in a state of high stress due to the uncertainty of when the next attack may come lower a person's ability to withstand the impact of events as small as simply learning after the fact about the violent injury to friends and compatriots? That the man may embellish one specific event because he himself believes just living under that kind of long-term stress should not hurt him and that if it did that to him then that's only because he's a pussy.

  • (Score: 4, Informative) by GungnirSniper on Sunday February 08 2015, @06:02AM

    by GungnirSniper (1671) on Sunday February 08 2015, @06:02AM (#142384) Journal

    I've been enjoy the hell out of seeing Brian Williams at Yalta, with Lincoln, [imgur.com] and even on the moon. Thanks photoshoppers.

    Williams' misremembering at best is still an insult to the vile [wikipedia.org] and near-deadly attacks [wikipedia.org] television journalists have suffered.

  • (Score: 4, Interesting) by Anonymous Coward on Sunday February 08 2015, @06:47AM

    by Anonymous Coward on Sunday February 08 2015, @06:47AM (#142388)

    Some Other Tall Tales Brian Williams Might Want to Apologize For [alternet.org]
    by Jim Naureckas of Fairness and Accuracy In Reporting (fair.org).

    This kind of untruthful performance is typical of Lamestream Media as a whole.
    Any media that has commercial ads paid for by megacorporations is not a useful source of information.
    The money men call the tune and their whores in media dance.

    This goes for the Public Broadcasting System and what used to be called National Public Radio as well ("corporate underwriting").
    Unreliable at best; outright propagandists regularly.

    -- gewg_

    • (Score: 4, Funny) by The Mighty Buzzard on Sunday February 08 2015, @11:32AM

      Indeed. And for gewg_ and I agree on something it has to be as blindingly obvious as water being wet, the sky being blue, and Satan Claus being out there and only getting stronger.

      --
      Dog: Woof
      Cat: Meow
      Sheep: We need common sense gun control
    • (Score: 1) by khallow on Tuesday February 10 2015, @05:40AM

      by khallow (3766) Subscriber Badge on Tuesday February 10 2015, @05:40AM (#143011) Journal
      Reason has a similar take [reason.com].

      Why weren't Williams’s own accomplishments sufficient for his sense of self-regard and NBC's need for promotional material? I suspect there will be a lot of people lying on that particular couch. For now, the case is a reminder of two cautionary principles: Never trust a one-tenth-of-one-percenter who expends that much energy claiming to be just one of the guys, and always remember that the reporter telling the loudest war stories at the bar is invariably the one most full of shit.

  • (Score: -1, Flamebait) by Anonymous Coward on Sunday February 08 2015, @08:48AM

    by Anonymous Coward on Sunday February 08 2015, @08:48AM (#142395)

    Brian Williams is suffering permanent psychological scars because American voters deliberately chose to elect evil tyrants to start and continue pointless wars. But don't blame Bush or Obama, blame the treasonous voters themselves for intentionally betraying their country. Shame on all of you who voted for Obama and Bush. You. Are. The. Problem.

  • (Score: 3, Informative) by Anonymous Coward on Sunday February 08 2015, @08:52AM

    by Anonymous Coward on Sunday February 08 2015, @08:52AM (#142397)

    This story isn't going to be on the radar for most of the planet, sticking the word journalist in the summary somewhere would go a long way.

    • (Score: 0) by Anonymous Coward on Sunday February 08 2015, @10:19AM

      by Anonymous Coward on Sunday February 08 2015, @10:19AM (#142413)

      uhu, even following the links I couldn't understand what it was about

    • (Score: 3, Informative) by tonyPick on Sunday February 08 2015, @04:22PM

      by tonyPick (1237) on Sunday February 08 2015, @04:22PM (#142479) Homepage Journal

      I found this RT article had some useful background, (since I had no idea who this was or what this was about either):

      http://rt.com/usa/230323-nbc-williams-internal-probe/ [rt.com]

  • (Score: 3, Funny) by ilPapa on Sunday February 08 2015, @01:08PM

    by ilPapa (2366) Subscriber Badge on Sunday February 08 2015, @01:08PM (#142431) Journal

    Did I ever tell you guys about how I shot down the bloody Red Baron over Germany in the Great War?

    --
    You are still welcome on my lawn.