Did I ever tell you about the time I broke out of Saddam Hussein’s prison with a nail filer, stormed his palace single-handedly and escaped seconds before the entire complex exploded? No?
Good, because it didn’t happen. If only Brian Williams could separate fact from fantasy.
The six month suspension NBC News slapped evening news anchor and managing editor Williams with today isn’t enough. The breach of trust he created with the public is too deep to fully repair.
That’s not to say Williams can’t continue his career. There’s simply no way he can be the face of a news organization, an institution that must command credibility, when his credibility is shot.
It’s one thing to make a mistake in a story or to misspeak. All journalists, me included, can admit to the occasional error as long as it’s promptly corrected.
However, Williams’ repeated yarns about being in a helicopter that was shot down in Iraq weren’t a mere mistake. His fictional account of events provided for some entertaining banter as he sat on the couch across from David Letterman. It made him seem brave. Williams forgot that the news is about world events and the public, not him.
That wasn’t a slip up. That wasn’t the fog of war clouding his memory. I don’t see how any civilian who is rarely in dangerous situations could mistake a life-and-death event like that.
The six month suspension, which will cost him about $5 million, will allow time for the controversy to cool off. Still, I don’t see how the public can accept Williams being the mouthpiece for NBC News or its managing editor. He could return to NBC, or elsewhere, as a correspondent with someone fact-checking his work. But he can’t be the person with the ultimate responsibility for the entire broadcast.
An honest reputation takes a second to destroy and a lifetime to rebuild.
Now if Williams wants some pointers on writing fiction, I can volunteer. Ever hear about the time right after Hurricane Katrina when Williams’ boat was attacked by a mutant, purple eyed gator?