Brian Williams Under Fire

Credibility and vulnerability… Brian Williams’ fate as prominent NBC news anchor remains unclear.

Brian+Williams

Photo Courtesy of NBC News

Brian Williams is the host of “Nightly News with Brian Williams.”

Zach Asato, Head of Photo

Brian Williams, perhaps the most prominent figure in evening news, has recently been involved in a scandal regarding a personal account of a helicopter incident that occurred in 2003 during the Iraq War. Originally, in 2003, Williams reported that he was part of a squadron of four helicopters. He stated that only select helicopters had taken light gunfire and that the helicopter in front of his helicopter had taken a hit by a rocket-propelled grenade (RPG). As a result of that and a dust storm, they were forced to land. In 2008, Williams recalled the story in a blog using the same information.  However, when interviewed on the “Late Show With David Letterman” in 2013, Williams altered his original account of the incident and said that all of the helicopters had come under fire and that his helicopter was hit with the RPG as well.

Last week, Williams paid tribute to a soldier who had been credited by Williams for saving his life during the 2003 incident. However, other military personnel who were part of that helicopter squadron came out through social media and claimed that Williams’ story was in fact false – Williams had never actually been on the helicopter that took RPG fire.

As a journalist, I am astounded by the lack of integrity on the part of Williams. This story, or lie, has not only damaged the reputation and credibility of NBC, but it also has created a sense of doubt and lack of trust for the press as a whole. I do not see the advantage of telling such a lie. The incident occurred a decade before he changed his story. The only possibility that I could see would be for pride or heroic sentiment. When reporting on a war in particular, it is crucial that a news source provide only facts to readers or viewers and Williams’ actions reflect that of a self-centered journalist.

Although Williams told a terrible lie, it shouldn’t mean the death of his career. Thousands of journalists make mistakes every day and this is no different. If Williams was not a major television anchor, he would not have received such harsh criticism from the public and from almost all other news agencies. He has apologized for his actions and has temporarily relinquished his position on prime time networking and is currently the key figure in a formal NBC investigation. On “Nightly News” he responded, “I made a mistake in recalling the events of twelve years ago… this was a bungled attempt by me to thank one special veteran… I hope they know they have my greatest respect and also now my apology.” The apology was genuine and I believe that given that he has already been suspended for six months and that he is not receiving any monetary compensation, he has been punished enough. Additionally, let’s not forget all of his outstanding news coverage throughout the years, in Afghanistan, during the Joplin Tornado, or at the site of the Gulf Oil Spill. He has worked in the news industry for over 30 years and one incident should not shape his entire journalistic life.