Breaking news! Literally! Sound the alarm! Roll the animation! Shine the blue lights!
The memo from NBC News president Deborah Turness said in part: “Brian misrepresented events which occurred while he was covering the Iraq War in 2003. It then became clear that on other occasions Brian had done the same while telling that story in other venues. This was wrong and completely inappropriate for someone in Brian’s position.”
In the same memo, NBC Universal’s CEO Steve Burke said what Williams did is ” inexcusable and this suspension is severe and appropriate,” but Burke also said Williams “deserves a second chance and we are rooting for him.”
I don’t remember anything like this ever happening. The one incident that comes to mind involved one of Williams’ most public defenders, Dan Rather. He left CBS News after about half a century for a disputed news report on President George W. Bush‘s Vietnam-era National Guard service.
The Williams saga has brought out many allegations and questions about the newsman, the news process, and other famous people. People have taken sides and made predictions. Many said Williams would’ve been fired immediately if his newscast wasn’t in first place. Now, hopefully, that will all be put to rest.
It took days after the allegations were revealed to the nation, but NBC finally started investigating him. Now, the network made up its mind and not a minute too soon.
I’m not going to get into all the details about what happened, but I have some thoughts:
- Saturday, Williams put out a statement that he’d be off the air for a few days because he was making too much news. It contained the line, “Lester Holt has kindly agreed to sit in for me.” Oh come on! Kindly agreed? It’s a promotion and a lot more prestigious! Who wouldn’t do that? The job is the same. He would just move from double-shift weekends to a better schedule on weekdays. Who really wrote that?
- Williams plummeted from the 23rd most trusted celebrity in the country, all the way down to number 835. That’s according to The Marketing Arm, which polls consumers to track celebrity perception – and pretty quick. (The list is not public. Learn more here.)
- The New York tabloids have been covering Williams constantly. This morning, the New York Post reported top-level NBC executives were meeting in head honcho Burke’s apartment, deciding what to do, but Williams wasn’t invited. Last Thursday, the Post reported Tom Brokaw wanted Williams out, but Brokaw later denied it. Don’t forget the Post is owned by news rival Fox. Don’t you think they have an interest in getting rid of NBC’s #1 anchor?
- Not that CNN is any better. On Sunday on Facebook, I questioned why CNN should be taking so many shots at Williams when it has been labeling its recorded video as live for so long. This morning, FTV Live noted CNN media correspondent Brian Stelter had posted 25 stories on the Web about Williams, and talked about it ad nauseam, yet was so reserved when CNN’s own anchor Fareed Zakaria was caught committing numerous instances of plagiarism.
Back to my previous point: Nobody is perfect. Reporting is one thing, but nobody should be throwing stones. We all deserved better. Many have lots to learn. And the audience is probably watching the news a little differently now.
I don’t know Brian Williams personally, but was in the same room as him once. It was 1991 or so. I was up in New York interviewing for a position as a CBS page. Brian was anchoring the local news on Channel 2. I was getting a tour of the newsroom and he was on the other side, getting ready for the noon show. (Little did I know at that time, you have to know someone to become a CBS page!)
He also used to work at Channel 10 in Philadelphia, but well before my time and when it was owned by a different network.
Now, everyone is coming out of the woodwork to show Williams hasn’t been perfect. Who is? If he committed such big sins in the past, then why weren’t they reported at the time? There are reports NBC was notified about the Iraq War story years ago. If that’s true, then the network is at least as guilty.
CBS puts on a first-class newscast, even if it’s not first in the ratings. On the other hand, it seems ABC’s producers would rather show amazing, can’t-miss video than put on serious newscasts. Poor David Muir! I’m glad I’m not him. And Good Morning America has turned into a party I would definitely skip.
Lester Holt will continue as NBC’s substitute anchor. I like Holt. He got a raw deal from WBBM in Chicago, but certainly got the last laugh! He has the credentials, has done well on weekend mornings AND evenings (two very different broadcasts), so he should get the gig if Williams eventually loses it.
But I like Williams. I think he does a good job as anchor. In fact, I hope he makes it, only to show second chances are possible.
And I hope he’s better after it.