Hardly ever does a breaking story in the news serve as the peg for a column here on Adam Smith, Esq., but we reserve the right to make exceptions to all customs, so today a briefish note on the still-unfolding slow-motion descent of Brian Williams, the NBC Nightly News anchor.
The facts are simple, as noted by The New York Times:
The NBC News anchor Brian Williams apologized Wednesday for mistakenly claiming he had been on a helicopter that was shot down by ground fire in Iraq in 2003.
Last week, NBC Nightly News filmed Mr. Williams taking a soldier to a New York Rangers game. The public address announcer at the game explained to the crowd that “U.S. Army Command Sergeant Major Tim Terpak was responsible for the safety of Brian Williams and his NBC News team after their Chinook helicopter was hit and crippled by enemy fire” during the invasion of Iraq.
Mr. Terpak received a standing ovation, and, on Facebook, where NBC posted a video of the story, Mr. Williams was also praised. But one commenter cast doubt on the story, which Mr. Williams also told in vivid and specific detail to David Letterman in 2013.
“Sorry dude, I don’t remember you being on my aircraft,” wrote Lance Reynolds on Facebook. “I do remember you walking up about an hour after we had landed to ask me what had happened.”
His weak and unconvincing apology only added fuel to the mess:
For years, Brian Williams had been telling a story that wasn’t true. On Wednesday night, he took to his anchor chair on “NBC Nightly News” to apologize for misleading the public.
On Thursday, his real problems started.
A host of military veterans and pundits came forward on television and social media, challenging Mr. Williams’s assertion that he had simply made a mistake when he spoke, on several occasions, about having been in a United States military helicopter forced down by enemy fire in Iraq in 2003. Some went so far as to call for his resignation. […] A Fox News analyst, Howard Kurtz, said, “The admission raises serious questions about his credibility in a business that values that quality above all else.” On CNN’s “New Day,” the host Chris Cuomo said that attributing the lie to “the fog of war” wasn’t acceptable and the Internet would “eat him alive.” Rem Rieder, a USA Today media columnist, wrote, “It’s hard to see how Williams gets past this, and how he survives as the face of NBC News.”
Over the weekend, he took another deep step into the quicksand, saying “As managing editor of ‘NBC Nightly News,’ I have decided to take myself off of my daily broadcast for the next several days.” Abundant shortcomings could be found in this unfortunate gem, but I will only point out, first, that it’s not really his call whether he’s on or off the show or for how long, and second, he doesn’t even pretend to address what he did, much less issue a full-throated and unvarnished apology for it.
NBC News has opened an investigation.
By way of background for those of you out of the more-than-slightly-incestuous US media scrum loop. NBC’s Nightly News has been the highest-rated of the major network news braodcasts for the entire past 10 year period that Williams has anchored it, and he reportedly just signed a new five-year, $10-million/year contract with NBC. He is a man on top of his profession.
This entire deeply sad and thoroughly unnecessary episode is far from over, and Williams’ ultimate fate anyone’s guess at this point, but the lessons we can all draw from it are self-evident.