What is going to be helped by putting Brian Williams, as David Carr of the NY Times wrote, in the “naughty corner” for six months? Answer: nothing except, after this week perhaps, getting the story out of the media cycle. It takes some immediate pressure off NBC News, but they are paid to take pressure and paid to ride out storms, even though this one is bigger and weirder than almost any other to hit a news division since the start of the national networks.
Suspending Brian Williams, however, does nothing in terms of his relationhip to the public except damage it. Severely. So much so that it would be surprising if they ever let him get back on the air in any capacity. Maybe he could be a copy “boy” or a news writer.
If he is too inconsistent in dealing with the truth now, what is going to change in six months? He will still be the guy who misrepresented his experiences in Iraq and, most likely, other places as well, including New Orleans after Katrina. If he is not suitable now, he will not be suitable then. It is just that simple. He is either an honest journalist who can be trusted or a dishonest one who cannot. If he can’t be trusted, and he is given this six months of shame, then the public would be quite right never to accept him or trust him again.
Williams is being treated like a third grade errant school boy being sent to the corner to sit things out and calm down. Why humiliate the guy before the entire country? What’s to be gained by that, proving you’re tough?
Suspending Williams does do one thing for the bosses at NBC News, however: it skips over the fact that Williams should have been restricted from making all his “star appearances”, like on the Letterman show and 30 Rock. It takes attention away from the fact that THEY should have known at least something about his tendency to misrepresent and should have done something about it before it became a crisis. They should have told him long ago that his job was to do the news, period, and skip all the promotional crap. Instead, they wanted the benefits of promotion, now he takes the heat.
Instead of acting more responsible themselves, NBC News has engaged in shameless self promotion for years. One example that turns my stomach every year when it comes on is the round-up of speakers at college graduations around the country. Oh, that sounds like a nice “feel good” four or five minutes? Well, guess what, the round up always includes a clip of Brian appearing somewhere and often the old anchor, Tom Brokaw, too. This kind of blatant self promotion would not have been allowed in the past, but it is standard operating proceedure these days.
By suspending Brian Williams, NBC News could not have done a better job of destroying his creditability, now and for the future, than if they had set fire to his pants while he was reading the news. I shed not a tear for Williams, but I take no joy in seeing someone being trashed, even though there was no excuse for his exaggerations. Still, it is sad to see someone thrown to the wolves in this manner, something that could happen to almost anyone in these days of Facebook and Twitter.
One of the bigwigs at NBC, Steve Burke, the company president, said in a statement that was put out to employees at the same time as that of the NBC News president that Williams “deserves a second chance”. Did he, or anyone, stop to consider that by suspending him, they took away any second chance he might have had? It would be remarkable, even incredible, to see Williams bounce back in six months to this position. I wouldn’t bet a dollar on it. You can’t treat someone at such a high level of responsibility like a little kid and then expect them to recover. By taking him off the air, they are taking away his ability to reestablish some degree of credibility and delaying whatever might be involved in that process means it is never likely to be undertaken, at least not on NBC.
Some other network or channel will take Williams. He is talented at reading the news and makes a generally good, non-offensive presentation. Plus, he’s experienced and well known, well liked by many. It is doubtful that this is the end of the road for Williams in television news, but it is most likely the end for him and NBC News. It would have been more honest, and perhaps more fair to Williams, if they had cut their losses and sent him packing. Now, unless they actually have told him he won’t be coming back, Williams has to operate under the cloud of, perhaps, returning in six months.
Whoever takes over the anchor chair at NBC, he or she will not likely be allowed to carry the title “managing editor”. Walter Cronkite, the once and future model for an anchor on network television, carried that title at CBS and he proved himself worthy of it. Williams abused it a bit when he took himself off the air and used that title to assert his authority over the newscast, a newscast now that has declared it wants nothing to do with him.
Doug Terry 2.11.15