George Washington probably did lie from time to time. In fact, it wouldn’t surprise me if he never chopped down the famous cherry tree or any other. But, when George was alive, there was no Internet and there were no cell-phone video cameras.
Brian Williams, anchor of the most popular network newscast for the past ten years, “misremembered” his role in flying around in helicopters in a war zone in 2003. Then he repeated what he misremembered multiple times, in public and on TV. If you are a television news anchor, you are selling a few things. The most important of these (in no particular order) are your good looks, the personality you project on TV, your ability to read out loud in a pleasant speaking voice and your credibility. Can you misremember something? Sure particularly if the something you misremember is insignificant to you. I am unsure if my wife and I attended a wedding for the woman I took to my senior prom or whether we attended a wedding of another high school friend and that prom date was a bridesmaid. If I were shot down in a helicopter though, I’m pretty sure I would remember that, accurately.
One lie diminishes Brian’s credibility. Now, everyone in the media is out looking for other lies he might have told and several media outlets claim to have discovered some. And of the some, a subset seems significant. Did Brian Williams misremember or lie about whether he rescued one puppy or two from a fire? Who cares? Did he have to be rescued from possible gang attack in a stairwell of the hotel he stayed in during Hurricane Katrina? Did he see a corpse float by the same hotel? If they didn’t happen, did he report those things on TV? Those things reflect on whether he’s a good reporter or a good story teller. We know he’s a good story teller. He’s been a charming guest on the Late Show and the Tonight Show. A good story teller has to be entertaining, but to be a good reporter, we have to be sure we can believe him.
So on Saturday, he said he had decided to remove himself from his newscast for a few days. I have no personal knowledge of this, of course, but if he did decide, I suspect it was at the suggestion of his superiors at NBC News, NBC, or even its parent company, Comcast. When that kind of suggestion comes down, there’s always the possibility that if you don’t do what’s suggested, said suggestion will be imposed upon you. If Brian’s self-imposed hiatus lasts more than “a few days” I won’t be surprised.
Have the ratings tanked in the few days since the controversy erupted? Will ratings fall off this week with Lester Holt in the anchor seat? Is there anybody else on the horizon who could quickly take Brian Williams’ place? How much money would it cost the company to keep him, vs. how much it would cost to eat his recently signed multi-million contract is a big consideration. You can also be sure lawyers for the company and for Williams are looking into how much they would have to pay him to go away.
Do I think the few days Brian Williams will be away from the anchor chair at the NBC Nightly News will be more than a few days? Yes. In fact, even if he does comeback, I believe there’s a good likelihood that he won’t continue in his current role for very long afterwards. A lot of prominent media analysts are calling on him to resign. I’m not a prominent media analyst so nobody has consulted me on the matter.