09 February 2015

Brian Williams -- Trust in the Falling Rock?

Brian Williams on Trust

Brian Williams has been the chief anchor and managing editor of the NBC Nightly News for ten years.  The 55 year old news personality also hosted a prime time news magazine show titled "Rock Center", which tried to capitalize on NBC's identification with the Manhattan landmark Rockefeller Center.  Alas, Brian Williams "Rock Center" was cancelled after two seasons in 2013 for the lack of interest.  

Perhaps the memory of Rock Center not being interesting enough encouraged Brian Williams to conflate his combat zone correspondent stories. Williams original report from Operation Iraqi Freedom in 2003 seemed close to the truth (without revealing that William's Chinook helicopter was a half hour behind the bird under fire).  

When Williams went on Late Night with David Letterman in 2013, the story had been embellished to having rocket propelled grenades (RPGs) and AK47s fired at William's helicopter and the pilot getting a purple heart for a wounded ear (which never happened).  

Williams revisited his war stories when paying an on the air tribute to Sgt. Major Tim Terpak who had been honored at a New York Rangers hockey game.  This caused the New York Times to scrutinize Williams ever evolving escapade. 

After Navy veterans who eyewitnessed the operation  called Williams out in Stars and Stripes for the inaccuracies in this reportage, Brian Williams claimed that he misremembered: 

“On this broadcast last week in an effort to honor and thank a veteran who protected me and so many others following a ground-fire incident in the desert during the Iraq War, I made a mistake in recalling the events of 12 years ago. It didn't take long to hear from some brave men and women in the air crews who were also in the desert. I want to apologize:  I said I was traveling in an aircraft that was hit by RPG fire. I was instead in a following aircraft. We all landed and spent two harrowing nights in a sandstorm in the desert. This was a bungled attempt by me to thank one special veteran, and by extension: our brave military men and women - Veterans everywhere -- those who have served while I did not. I hope they know they have my greatest respect… and also now my apology.”
Alas, veterans do not readily accept Williams half-hearted apology as a Fog of War mistake as the story had grown significantly in a dozen years.  Williams Chinook story had been likened to Stolen Valor as Williams claimed to be in combat in which he was not involved. 

NBC has officially refused to investigate the Chopper Whopper incident and is allowing Brian Williams to handle it himself. Presumably this is because Brian Williams has been the face of a successful NBC Nightly News operation for a decade and the network would literally and figuratively lose face by calling their star into question.  Howard Kurtz analogized that NBC is treating Brian Williams as if he was too big to fail.

In response to Conflate-Gate, Williams supposedly  self imposed a brief hiatus from the anchor chair,  so he is not the center of the news. In other words, he is waiting for the media storm to blow over. But now that Williams is established as a self-aggrandizing reporter, he may have lost his gravitas as a truth teller.

Brian Williams coverage of Hurricane Katrina in 2005 has been impeached.  Williams claimed that he saw dead bodies floating outside of his window.  Well, the Ritz Carlton is in the French Quarter, which is the highest point in New Orleans, which FEMA disputes the flooding to be low to nonexistent.   Williams claimed to have gotten dysentery from drinking floodwater, but the New Orleans Advocate quotes Dr. Brobson Lutz, who was treating people near the French Quarter: “I saw a lot of people with cuts and bruises and such, but I don’t recall a single, solitary case of gastroenteritis during Katrina or in the whole month afterward."   Three separate individuals have disputed William's claim that gangs of thugs had overrun his posh pied-de-terre in the French Quarter. 

News junkies have known for years that NBC News entities "Lean Forward" which give a liberal slant to news coverage.  This was recently demonstrated with Savanah Guthrie's softball pre-Super Bowl interview with President Obama in the White House kitchen.  Of course, GE and NBC was happy to work hand in hand with Al Gore devote 24 hours of programming for  his climate change campaign. Of course, Al Sharpton was given a platform to "resist we much" for race baiting on the George Zimmerman and Ferguson Missouri shootings.  While one could complain about the partisanship in the reportage or journalists inserting themselves into the story, at least the facts are not called into question.

At present, Brian Williams and by extension NBC News has become the butt of jokes, questioning their credibility in truth telling.  An effective internet series of memes places Brian Williams as a Zelig like figure in anachronistic poses, like being present for the lunar landings.

If Saturday Night Live were not a left leaning NBC property, it might even satirize William's tall tales.  But that is not how the Lamestream Media works today.

While the furor may subside, if Williams remains as anchor at Rockefeller Center, trust in NBC may fall like a rock.  In 1992, Dateline NBC aired a report "Waiting to Explode" which questioned the safety of GM's Chevy trucks.  To make more dramatic television, NBC strapped incendiary devices during the crash test. After this became exposed and General Motors threatened a defamation lawsuit, then NBC News President Michael Gartner admitted to the mistake and had Jane Pauley (who had no connection to the story) give a 3  1/2 minute on air apology. In the end, Gartner and three producers lost their positions as NBC News struggled to keep their bone fides as reputable reporters.

If NBC News dared to drop anchor, there might be other roles in which Brian Williams would be the perfect person. Williams would have been perfect for 30 Rock but alas the comedy series has been cancelled.  Perhaps as a correspondent for the Onion.  Maybe Steven Colbert needs a jocular sidekick for his stint on CBS's Late Night.

Then there is the question of what NBC News would do to fill the empty anchor chair. When NBC was considering a replacement  in October 2014 for David Gregory on Meet the Press, the execs at 30 Rock promised Daily Show comedian Jon Stewart a truckload of money to take the serious gig.  Stewart declined the NBC offer by saying: "News and entertainment have melded in a way. But they would be overcompensating on the entertainment side. That’s certainly not an outlandish decision, although I don’t necessarily think that’s the best direction for it.”

Jon Stewart did not want NBC News to become a joke.  So what do they do now with their credibility falling like a rock?

h/t: Adam Zyglis

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