Brian Williams: A Fall from Grace

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For journalists, the primary focus is to provide citizens with the important information needed for

everyday life. It doesn’t matter what kind of reputation you built as a journalist, but once you lie about the

reporting, the trust is gone. All of these years, many Americans have trusted and tuned into NBC Nightly

News at 6:30 p.m. for the last decade with Anchor Brian Williams for that important news regarding our

country. He recently lost that trust from the viewers from recent reports about him lying on various stories

he has covered.

According to the network, prior to his broadcasting career he worked in the White House under

the administration of President Jimmy Carter as an intern. His broadcasting career began in 1981 at

KOAM­TV in Pittsburg, Kansas. He would later join television stations in Washington, DC, Philadelphia,

and New York City. In 1993, he joined NBC News and was NBC’s Chief White House correspondent.

He was also the anchor and managing editor of The News with Brian Williams on MSNBC and CNBC. In

2004, he took over as the anchor of NBC Nightly News and maintained it as the nation’s top rated nightly

news anchor.

He has won numerous awards during his time at the Nightly News desk which include eleven

Edward R. Murrow Awards, twelve Emmy Awards; Time Magazine named him one of the 100 most

influential people of 2006, the DuPont­Columbia University Award, the Walter Cronkite Award for

Excellence in Journalism and the industry’s highest honor, the George Foster Peabody Award. With all

the awards he received, his reputation could soon tarnish and the awards will mean nothing.

In 2003, Williams was covering the Iraq War for NBC. During the invasion of Iraq, Williams told

the American audience on national television that he was aboard the helicopter that was hit by an RPG

and had to make an immediate landing. Now of course the audience was going to believe this because we

trusted dedicated and credible journalists like Brian Williams who we thought risked his life for a news

story. However, this is not the case.

Recently, crew members on the 159th Aviation Regiment’s Chinook told Stars and Stripes that

there plane was the one hit by the RPG and Williams was not on that plane. In fact, he was aboard a

different Chinook plane that was nowhere near the impact and was a half hour away along with two

others. On “Nightly News”, Williams confessed that he misinterpreted the events that took place and

apologized. However, his apology wasn’t enough as NBC suspended Williams for six months without

pay which begs the question can we truly trust journalists?

“This is a personal issue that reflects poorly on Brian Williams and should not be used to paint

the business of journalism as a whole,” said Scott Benjamin, Communication Arts Adjunct Professor at

NYiT’s Manhattan Campus. “There have been instances in the past of reporters falsifying stories, and

they are usually swiftly fired and shamed. But the bedrock principles of journalism remain: report the

facts fairly and honestly. It’s important that anyone who violates the principles is dismissed immediately

in order to avoid tainting the whole business.”

“I look at this as a sad story about fame, about memory, about the expectations of those in the

public spotlight…and maybe much less so about journalism,” said Communication Arts Professor John

Hanc, former Faculty Advisor of The Campus Slate and contributor to newspapers such as Newsday and

the New York Times. “As the late David Carr pointed out in this excellent column on the Brian Williams fiasco in the

New York Times, `his transgressions were not a fundamental part of his primary (journalistic)

responsibilities.’ That’s true. He didn’t lie on air in his role as anchorman, or deliberately or even

accidentally present false or erroneous news. It was the celebrity Brian Williams, not the journalist Brian

Williams, who embellished, and ‘misremembered’ this whole episode. He was a victim more of his need

to self­aggrandize, or to relate an anecdote that sounded good on Letterman or Jon Stewart or at one of the

events he is probably paid oodles of money to speak at. He would have been better off remembering and

applying the same basic journalistic principles he applied to telling news stories to telling his own story.”

“To wreck a guy’s career, behind one tall tale, I think is really out of line,” said journalist Geraldo

Rivera told Huffington Post Live. “You can’t tell me that in six months they’re going to let him back and

just say all is forgiven Do [Comcast and NBC] really want to regurgitate the whole scandal? They want it

to go away … I lament that. This is a country of second chances and I wish that they would give him a

second chance.”

However, it is not just one tall tale. For example, according to CBS Los Angeles, Williams spoke

at the Ronald Regan Presidential Library in 2008 and said that he was at the Brandenburg Gate the night

the Berlin Wall came down. However, new reports say otherwise. According to the same source, the only

American Anchorman to report live from the Wall was Brokaw and not Williams. Another example

involves the Navy Seals. According to CNN, Williams said that he flew into Baghdad with SEAL Team

Six but once again reports say otherwise. According to Navy Seals spokesperson Ken McGraw, the

SEALs do not allow journalists to fly with them.

Questions also include Williams’ award winning coverage of Hurricane Katrina. A year after

Williams joined Nightly News; Katrina hit New Orleans, Louisiana and made a severe impact. Due to

most of the homes being damaged, people were sent to live in the New Orleans Superdome. According to

CNN, a man killed himself after falling from the upper deck seats in the superdome. In that same year,

Williams said in a television documentary that he was not a witness to the suicide. However, in 2014,

Williams and former Nightly News Anchor Tom Brokaw spoke about covering Hurricane Katrina on The

DuPont Talks. According to Williams, he was a witness to the suicide that took place in the superdome.

With Williams suspended, Lester Holt will be taking over Nightly News. Holt is a well respected

journalist for NBC and is stepping into big shoes for the network. Nightly News is the number one rated

network newscast for now. Since Holt has taken over, according to the Nielsen Ratings, the ratings have

declined which is a good sign for other networks including ABC. Recently, David Muir replaced Diane

Sawyer on ABC World News Tonight. The show has always been second in the ratings to Nightly News

and could possibly reach over the hump.

This New Year may prove to a back and forth fight to be number one in the ratings between NBC

and ABC. However, it shouldn’t be the case if Williams did not break the golden rule in journalism.

When Williams comes back, viewers will never look at him the same because once you lie then you’re

never trusted again. In the coming months, Muir may benefit from this and NBC may falter even more. In

six months, we will find out the damage that Williams has not only caused for NBC but to his own

reputation.

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