My fellow journalists, afro-journalists, and all others who have the passion of writing for hire—we need to take notes on this example of what NOT to do. The breaking news: Brian Williams has left the NBC Nightly News, permanently. Williams has been the face of NBC and a beloved journalist to the audience that tuned to his show for 22 years.
But in February, Williams rattled the media world when he publicly admitted to lying about explicit details in an event he covered in Iraq in 2003 at the end of his nightly show. As journalists, we struggle to find the breaking news story that will make our name more memorable than the next reporter. This is a competitive market with the best and most determined deemed to succeed, so the pressure clearly got the best of Williams.
I hate to say I could foresee what would happen as a result of his contempt, but it was almost a no-brainer. We have seen it many times before (look up: Jayson Blair, Carl Cameron, Stephen Glass, Janet Cooke, Mike Barnicle, etc.) and it never ends well for these professionals. So why has this become an almost (embarrassingly) normal occurrence? Because the names I mentioned are just a few. We just have to remember that, journalists should build their careers off of being accurate and dependable. Accuracy and dependability will bring credibility. Once credibility is established, popularity will increase. And that is where many journalists would like to be. It’s how they get paid (big bucks, anyway).
Brian is down, but he is not out!
This guy may have gotten the best deal of any corrupt journalist’s career! Though Williams’ actions were unforgettable and could not allow him to keep his nightly news anchor’s chair, NBC is not going to completely shut him out. The plan is blurry (in the works to possibly find him another position) but they have decided to keep him at NBC. The possibilities for Williams actually, are endless. NBC News is a branch of NBCUniversal, which is owned by Comcast, a huge network, so Williams may have a plethora of possible positions.
So when NBC decided a couple weeks after his announcement that Williams would be suspended without pay for six months, the value that Williams built with NBC over two decades was probably the only thing saving him from complete abandonment.
And I (personally) think that his chances of staying on air with the Nightly News would have been higher if this was his first mistake. However, when the investigations continued, they found more evidence of misstatements and exaggerations within about 32 of his other stories. He has been digging this hole for himself to climb down for decades. So it was over and his time was up. But 32 stories (I have to say that again) wow! How could he REALLY have gotten away with all his lies, white lies, and exaggerations, without a second look from NBC’s editors, producers, and other staffers.
It is kind of hard believe and then makes me ponder…
Did NBC really know about the scandal?
There is speculation that although Williams was the conspirator behind his fabricated stories throughout his career, NBC knew about it the whole time. Eventually (let’s use Jayson Blair as an example), someone would have to realize that something is just not adding up with his stories. A copy editor’s main duty is to catch these type of mistakes before it is aired or published to avoid embarrassment or libel. But it did not take Blair over 20 years to be caught—and he was at The New York Times, a newspaper. A broadcast television network has much stricter regulations, so it should have taken much less time to discover errors. See where I’m going? Fellow journalists should understand. And I’m only formulating these educated opinions based on my time as a journalist in the classroom and professional offices.
So, in my opinion (which are not accusations, because I have no facts), this seems like it would be easier for Williams to go unobserved if he had others on his side. Williams was NBC’s prized possessions that brought overwhelming ratings and kept them competing with other networks that had Jon Stewart and David Letterman for example.
So why not keep him and make money? As long as Williams kept building the brand, those in charge chose to overlook his discrepancies. It was reported that the newsroom shorthand eventually became, “That’s Brian being Brian” with my assumption being, that’s him up to his normal “tactics” of keeping NBC booming with ratings. And once he revealed himself, the network cut him off. Unfortunately for Williams, NBC will probably be unaffected since they are an established brand and it is not easy to tear it down.
Soo…Who takes his place?
Lester Holt, the longtime understudy of Williams, will take his place as anchor of the NBC Nightly News. Holt has faithfully maintained the runner-up position for many years (he was the weekend anchor for “Today” show, “Dateline” and the “Nightly” show). Holt should realize one thing going into this coveted but yet intimidating seat in the front of the NBC cameras—do not lie about ANYTHING.
Holt will make history and become the first African-American solo host of a nightly news show. It is wise for him to be content with that history and to not be eager to obtain more fame. It will come if this is indeed the position for him.
What are your thoughts on this whole process?
- Should Williams have been fired from the Nightly News show?
- What position should he get with NBC (if any)?
- Will Lester Holt be a good replacement?