Does NBC value audience share over integrity?

BrianWilliamsSad

Brian Williams, NBC’s former number one news anchor, is back in the news. According to the “Washington Post,” NBC’s internal investigation of Williams’s exaggerated reporting has already confirmed eleven instances in which what Williams publicly reported was not exactly what he had witnessed.

The investigation came on the heels of the accusation made last February by soldiers who were with Williams in Iraq that the news anchor had repeatedly lied about being in a helicopter with them when it was shot down. As a result, NBC suspended Williams for six months and he retreated into silence, invisibility and presumably, shame.

The “embellishments” of his exploits made Williams’s reporting more dramatic and therefore more interesting. That may be the reason NBC, who must have noticed that Williams’s tales became more exciting with each retelling, did nothing. Williams was drawing the largest audience share of all the networks’ competing evening news shows.

The New York Times” reports that the investigation has identified details that Williams added to his story of a Hezbollah missile attack in Israel in 2006 and discrepancies in his accounts of how he acquired a fragment of the helicopter that crashed during the mission to kill Bin Ladin in 2011. His eyewitness accounts of the Arab protest in Cairo’s Tahrir Square and even of Hurricane Katrina are also being called into question.

Until the scandal broke, Williams had everything: good looks, engaging personality and a quick, dry wit which he often displayed to good advantage when sparring with Jon Stuart on the “Daily Show.”  When I was a journalism student at Columbia, he came to speak to our class. Since I got my news by reading newspapers rather then watching television, Williams was little more than a name to me, and I was impressed with his story-telling skills, affability, and above all, his sense of humor. He was actually quite funny. I don’t think he had yet started making the rounds of the late-night shows. He wasn’t yet the celebrity he later became.

One comment in particular that he made stayed with me. It was so important to him to appear impartial, Williams said, that he told no one how he voted, not even his family. That certainly sounded like an exaggeration at the time, and now, I realize it may well have been.

 

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