Saturday, February 07, 2015
The Brian Williams saga
Their lead anchor, the “face” of NBC News has been caught in an unbelievable lie. It’s the kind of whopper that potentially destroys all of his credibility. On the other hand, Brian Williams’ newscast is number one among the networks. In how many day parts can NBC claim they’re number one? Can they afford to lose him?
But backing up. I’ve never been to a war zone, but I would imagine that if I were in a helicopter that was shot down I would remember the details. Unless of course, I made it up. And then the details might shift. Ooops. I was really in the other helicopter. No, wait. I was at the Ritz-Carlton.
Someone on Facebook wondered if he was also in the Bronco with O.J. I don’t know who said that but wanted to acknowledge that someone other than myself came up with it. No, wait. Maybe that was my line. Yeah, I said it last night when I guested on Letterman. (No one will be able to fact-check to see if I really was on Letterman.)
If I were fudging somewhat on the details of being in a helicopter that was shot down (like whether the incident even occurred) I might not want to go on national television to tell my story. Yes, NBC is ratings-challenged, but there have to be some people out there who were present and could blow the whistle. Seriously, what the hell was he thinking?
At the moment he and the network are in mega damage control mode. There’s more tap dancing than a Busby Berkeley musical. PR people, lawyers, spin doctors, probably even Oprah are huddling in hopes of defusing this bomb.
But is it too late? It was for Dan Rather at CBS when he reported a bogus story about President Bush’s military service. And it’s not like Dan was part of the story. Can Brian Williams withstand this huge blow to his credibility?
To me this poses two questions: Will NBC value ratings over credibility? And is credibility even that important anymore? It should be. It used to be. It used to be the bedrock of a news organization. Of course now, all news organizations are mis-calling elections, reporting people dead who are still alive, and airing scoops that prove to be false. They all have to make so many apologies that the retraction segments should be sponsored. (I bet this is the only time Aaron Sorkin is sorry he’s no longer doing THE NEWSROOM.)
Finally, I must say I take no joy in this story. I like Brian Williams. He has a sense of humor. He seems like a good guy. But I grew up in an era where our news anchors were pillars of integrity and trust. I can’t imagine Walter Cronkite saying, “Oh wait. I wasn’t in a helicopter that got shot down, I was guesting on THE MARY TYLER MOORE SHOW that week.”
It will be fascinating to see how this all plays out. What do you guys think?
One solution could be: THE NBC NIGHTLY NEWS WITH ALLISON WILLIAMS.
UPDATE: Brian Williams announced he is "stepping away" from NBC News for a few days. Probably to get a jump on Valentine Day's shopping.