Should NBC Fire Brian Williams For Lying?

Screen Shot 2015-02-05 at 10.44.53 AMWhat’s up with Brian Williams?

The NBC Nightly news anchor admitted yesterday he lied about having been aboard a helicopter that was struck down in Iraq in 2003. And, this wasn’t just a one-time “misspeak” – as they say. This was a lie he repeated over and over again for many years.

Most recently, in a Friday “Nightly News” segment featuring Command Sgt. Major Tim Terpack, Williams described being aboard a helicopter that was hit by a rocket-propelled grenade and forced down at the beginning of the Iraq War. Williams said that his NBC team was then “rescued, surrounded and kept alive” by a platoon led by Terpack. The newscast showed footage of Williams accompanying Terpack to a New York Rangers hockey game, where the arena announcer repeated Williams’ account of events.

However, it turns out, Williams was not on the helicopter and, in fact, came in to the area hours later, safe and sound, to interview those who were.

Flight engineer Lance Reynolds said being hit “felt like a personal experience that someone else wanted to participate in and didn’t deserve to participate in.”

Reynolds also disputed Williams’ story in a comment posted Saturday on a Facebook video of the Nightly News segment.

“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 I 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.”

Mike O’Keeffe, the door gunner on the damaged helicopter, commented on the same post that Williams was “a liar.”

Williams has now recanted his original story to Star and Stripes, telling the military paper that he doesn’t know “what screwed up in my mind that caused me to conflate one aircraft with another.”

Now, I wasn’t there and I certainly haven’t spoken to Brian Williams. I’m not a psychologist or a psychiatrist or an expert in lying or deceit.

But, it seems to me only one thing would cause a person to conflate one aircraft with another; only one thing would cause someone to claim to have had an experience he did not have: lying.

Today, spin doctors like myself have a million and one ways for our clients to walk back a lie. They “clarify comments.” Or, they “misspoke.” Perhaps their statements were just “misunderstood” or “taken out of context.”

But, to say that his own mind caused him to confuse his comfortable flight safely landing with an aircraft that was shot down is absurd.

Williams — who presides over one of the most watched evening newscasts in the country — did not admit that he had lied, he simply apologized for making a “mistake.”

“I want to apologize for my mistake… I said I was traveling in an aircraft that was hit by RPG fire. I was instead in a following aircraft.”

He wasn’t “mistaken.” He lied. Repeatedly.

Now, let me clear, I am a fan of Brian Williams. I’ve generally found him to be likable and seemingly honest, presenting the news with journalistic integrity. The problem is that perception is now shattered.

Certainly we live in an age of fake journalism. There are entire networks and talk radio shows defined by their lies and propaganda. The Fox “news” network is registered with the FCC as “entertainment” so they can get away with pushing a political party’s agenda as opposed to presenting the news and being held accountable to journalistic ethics.

But, NBC is registered as a news network and therefore, is expected to be held to a higher standard than shock jocks.

While it is true fewer and fewer people actually watch network news, we still expect those who anchor real news programs to uphold the truth. And, to tell a lie so unnecessary as this; to in essence “hijack” the courageous experiences of soldiers at war as your own seems to tear at the very fabric of everything Murrow and Cronkite stood for.

Integrity is a journalist’s currency. And, Mr. Williams seems to have lost his with this strange lie.

In my opinion, NBC has no choice but to dismiss him.

What do you think?

3 comments

  1. At the very least, NBC needs to suspend him. He has hurt his — and by extension his employer’s — brand. His credibility has taken a hit. The organization can limit the damage to itself by an appropriate sanction. In terms of Williams, he needs to come up with an honest accounting here, and then — presuming he is suspended and not fired — do some substantial public service, maybe with veterans.

  2. Thinking about this a bit further, the journalist part of me wants him gone for a long time. The PR part of me, however, sees a scenario where you suspend Williams until the beginning of May (a “sweeps” month). Then Williams does a weeklong contrition tour on the morning, late night and cable shows. Lester Holt hosts a “very special” Dateline about the controversy. Then, during the second week of May, Williams comes back to host “The Nightly News.” Ratings will go through the roof. If ratings don’t plummet, you keep Williams. If they do, you replace Williams with Lester Holt. (Of course, if, in the interim, Holt increases ratings while as a substitute host, we never see Williams again).

  3. I’m sure you saw that Williams has stepped down. I think your idea about bringing him back for sweeps is interesting. But, I gotta say, I think his credibility has been so damaged, they will likely move him to host his own show on MSNBC or as a special correspondent on TODAY something, but I can’t see him anchoring the nightly news anymore. It’s all so strange and such a shame.

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