Let me make this clear. The Brian Williams’ gilding of his news credibility is unacceptable and stupid to the core. The prime NBC ‘Nightly News’ anchor has been slapped with a six-month (without pay), potentially career-killing suspension by the network. The reason cited, “For misleading the public about his experiences covering the Iraq war.” Potential huge advertising and money moves like this are always done in concert with the top corporate honchos. Comcast has owned NBC since 2011, plus an endless carpet of cable and media outlets including Bravo, E and USA Network. Brian Roberts is CEO of Comcast and according to the latest Forbes list, is worth a middling $1.3 billion after being absent from the “too much money” club for a few years.
So when the NBC news anchor started a viral boil in the virtually unanimous social media caldron of renouncing Williams, the choice was obvious. And William’s own actions made it all the easier. The absurdity of all this is that there was little need for Williams to exaggerate or lie about the incident that got him suspended.
He claimed his helicopter was hit by a Rocket Propelled Grenade (RPG) while he was covering the Iraq War in 2003. He further announced that the chopper was “forced down.” It wasn’t true. But the truth would have painted him in almost as bright a bravery light as the lie. He was somewhat behind the actual helicopter that did get hit. For Williams, it was a fairly close call in the hottest of wartimes and also showed what war correspondents face and the courage of our military. The exact, truthful eyewitness account was the perfect story to report back to the Network. But Williams abandoned that story.
Years later, the crew, understandably miffed by the William’s glory hogging, released the truth of the matter on Facebook that appropriately precipitated the downward William’s slide. Here’s a typical Facebook response from one of the guys who was in the affected helicopter.
“Lance Reynolds: Sorry dude, I don’t remember you being on my aircraft. I do remember you walking up about an hour after we had landed to ask me what had happened. Then remember you guys taking back off in a different flight of Chinooks from another unit and heading to Kuwait to report your “war story” to the Nightly News. The whole time we were still stuck in Iraq trying to repair the aircraft and pulling our own Security.”
The supreme irony is that the original contemporaneous telling of the story on a 2003 Tom Brokaw-anchored newscast, was straight-up, honest and truthful reporting. My thanks to NJ.com for digging up this first telling.
Over the years, as NJ.com’s outstanding research points out, the story morphed into something quite different. The RPG somehow made its way from the actual helicopter that got hit, to Brian’s helicopter. Instead of being instructed to land after the lead chopper had been hit in the original report, suddenly, Williams’ Chinook had been “forced down”, to quote the latest version of this story, “When the helicopter we were traveling in was “forced down” after being hit by an RPG…” Yeah, ‘forced down’ is a good phrase for what has now happened to Williams’ career.
Watch the unmitigated gall of Williams by scrolling down the NJ.com page to the January 30, 2015 account of Williams and a genuine war hero at the New York Rangers hockey game. What is truly puzzling is Command Sergeant Major Tim Terpak’s acceptance of the cheering accolades without telling some reporter the truth of what happened. In defense of Terpak, it’s entirely possible that he was engaged elsewhere when the affected helicopter was forced down and maybe later, Williams told him he was riding in the damaged chopper.
As a decades-long newsman and talk show host who also taught Mass Communications on the grad school level, my journalistic sensibilities are offended.
The larger question becomes, do we let Williams get away with this journalistic transgression? Let’s look at a previous high-profile orgy of BS’ing from the lips of off and on Fox News reporter, Geraldo Rivera. Please forgive me for putting ‘Fox’ and ‘News’ in the same sentence. Fox is actually little more than a propaganda sideshow where objective news reporting contributes but a minimal role in the content of the network.
But, back to Geraldo. BF (Before Fox) Rivera had earned considerable respect as a key media force in his WABC-TV 1973 reporting of the scandalous and despicable actions at New York’s Willowbrook State School for children with intellectual challenges. He won a well-deserved Peabody award for his expose and went on to journalistic fame and fortune with but one disruption. It was called Tora Bora. It was December, 2001 in Afghanistan and there, as British newspaper The Telegraph reported, stood the intrepid heroic figure of Rivera, then an LA talk show host, standing on the grounds of Tora Bora, gun in belt, mic in hand. The paper quoted Geraldo’s report: “The whole place just fried really and bits of uniforms and tattered clothing everywhere.” This had all just supposedly happened.
In fact, three American soldiers were among the dead from the day before. But not in Tora Bora, but Kandahar, a few hundred miles distant. Rivera shrugged it off as the “fog of war”. The whole episode must not have hurt him too much. He’s been prowling around Fox News for years and is currently on a stint with Donald Trump’s “Celebrity Apprentice.” H’mmm, maybe he is being punished after all. His bank account is adequate at $15 million. Not huge by today’s standards, but wouldn’t you like to have 15 million bucks in your post-70 years? For the record, Williams is worth $40 million, and at 55 can sit as long as NBC wants him to. Lest we give way to total cynicism, let’s look at some legitimate news warriors.
There was the unforgettable inhumanity of the video of the 1979 Nicaraguan National Guard execution of Bill Stewart of ABC news. U.S. reporters have been terrorized myriad ways. There was the 2011 Lara Logan sexual assault mob-grope in Egypt. Back in 1992, CBS correspondent Bob Simon and his three-man crew left the safety of the Gulf War reporting pack and were promptly captured, arrested, beaten and starved by Saddam Hussein’s soldiers for 40 days. Simon credits the intervention of the Soviet president at the time, Mikhail Gorbachev, with their release. Tragically, it has just been reported that Bob Simon lost his life in a car crash, the 11th. He was 73.
I’ve always been a huge fan of Christiane Amanpour, arguably the greatest war correspondent of the modern era. She’ll stick her nose anywhere there is ordnance. She recounts an experience in a Sarajevo hotel where a Howitzer round pierced the wall and destroyed the room two doors down. The shell didn’t explode or the whole floor would have been taken out. She has more similar harrowing tales to tell.
So, Williams offends the proud tradition and moral demands of true journalism and, in particular, the memories of those who braved various war fronts around the world, sacrificing their lives in the process.
If he’s contrite, he’ll work again, but never in the NBC or any other major anchor chair.
BTW; he’s still being investigated.
Raised rural & small town, then lived in N.Y., Chicago & LA. Widely traveled. Returned from world wandering to pursue media life of anchorman/reporter and major, medium and small market talk radio. Highly active in politics. Once worked as orderly & security in Mens Lock Ward for the Criminally Insane at a state institution. Much more rational population than current Teapublicans. Great concern for country run by and for the extreme wealthy. The inhumane current running through this country has no precedent in modern history.
Follow me on Twitter @demwriter