MSNBC’s Brian Williams Quotes Leonard Cohen Lyric in Syrian Air Strike Coverage

April 10th, 2017: As seen on Archive (PDF)


Brian Williams on MSNBC covering the Syrian Air Strike (left), the late Leonard Cohen in the video for “First We Take Manhattan (right); Photo: MSNBC (left)/Sony (right)

The day following Trump’s possible stock portfolio increase on the 59 Raytheon tomahawk cruise missiles the U.S. shot at a Syrian air base, in response to Syrian president Bashar al-Assad blasting citizens with chemical warfare, MSNBC’s Brian Williams quoted a Leonard Cohen song in his coverage of the event.

Talking to MSNBC terrorism analyst, Malcom Nance, over Pentagon-released footage of U.S. navy vessels lighting up a pitch-black sky with rocket fire, Williams said, “I am tempted to quote the great Leonard Cohen: ‘I am guided by the beauty of our weapons’,” adding, “they are beautiful pictures of fearsome armaments making what is for them what is a brief flight over to this airfield.”

The single lyric line comes from the late Cohen’s 1988 adventures in darkwave cheeseball 80s synth on the album, I’m Your Man, from the second verse of the notoriously cryptic song, “First We Take Manhattan:”

I’m guided by a signal in the heavens
I’m guided by this birthmark on my skin
I’m guided by the beauty of our weapons
First we take Manhattan, then we take Berlin

Now before you cry tone-deaf on the completely ethical Williams, though, here’s a quote from interview with Cohen around the release of the song in 1988 that Spin pointed out:

“I felt for sometime that the motivating energy, or the captivating energy, or the engrossing energy available to us today is the energy coming from the extremes. That’s why we have Malcolm X. And somehow it’s only these extremist positions that can compel our attention. And I find in my own mind that I have to resist these extremist positions when I find myself drifting into a mystical fascism in regards to myself. [laughs] So this song, “First We Take Manhattan,” what is it? Is he serious? And who is “we”? And what is this constituency that he’s addressing? Well, it’s that constituency that shares this sense of titillation with extremist positions.I’d rather do that with an appetite for extremism than blow up a bus full of schoolchildren.”

It should also be pointed out that Williams has made his odd love for Cohen known before. So this is certainly a curious breed of “mystical fascism” for both Cohen and Williams.

Then again, this Twitter reaction kind of makes a good point about Williams, too: