Brian Williams, the long-time top-rated NBC News anchor, has a major image problem.
Let’s just say he is no longer the same old Mr. Clean of the media. He now has to take his likeness off the modern Mt. Rushmore of American heroes.
Instead, he looks a little shady, like one of the careless CEOs or sports stars or actors or Wall Street titans who looks like he is engaging in some sort of a cover up after messing up badly.
The publication Stars and Stripes noted:
“NBC Nightly News anchor Brian Williams admitted Wednesday he was not aboard a helicopter hit and forced down by RPG fire during the invasion of Iraq in 2003, a false claim that has been repeated by the network for years.
“Williams repeated the claim Friday during NBC’s coverage of a public tribute at a New York Rangers hockey game for a retired soldier that had provided ground security for the grounded helicopters, a game to which Williams accompanied him. In an interview with Stars and Stripes, he said he had misremembered the events and was sorry.
“The admission came after crew members on the 159th Aviation Regiment’s Chinook that was hit by two rockets and small arms fire told Stars and Stripes that the NBC anchor was nowhere near that aircraft or two other Chinooks flying in the formation that took fire. Williams arrived in the area about an hour later on another helicopter after the other three had made an emergency landing, the crew members said.
“’I would not have chosen to make this mistake,’” Williams said. ‘I don’t know what screwed up in my mind that caused me to conflate one aircraft with another.’”
“Williams told his Nightly News audience that the erroneous claim was part of a ‘bungled attempt’ to thank soldiers who helped protect him in Iraq in 2003. ‘I made a mistake in recalling the events of 12 years ago,’ Williams said. ‘I want to apologize.’”
Today, in America, as long as apologize profusely after screwing up, all is forgiven, right? No matter how much an icon makes a big public mistake, it’s all good as long as he or she takes the high road afterward.
Williams, of course, has always come across as that rare newsperson who oozes sincerity and convinces us to trust him. That’s pretty much over. No, Williams won’t lose his job — after all, CBS’ Lara Logan survived a far more damaging self-inflicted blow to her credibility.
Williams, employing 20/20 hindsight, has been riding for a credibility fall. At times, he more resembles a standup comic than a newsman. He is skilled enough as a public figure to look right at home at a Don Rickles roast on Spike TV as at work (sort of) grilling Edward Snowden. It has been as if doing the news is no longer enough for him. He needs adulation form the public, too — who knows why our most respected newsperson has to yuk it up on Saturday Night Live.
Everyone likes Brian Williams. I’ve interviewed him and he has always been a total professional. He has worked hard to attain his success. It’s unfortunate that this lapse will tarnish his legacy. But he did it to himself.
Williams will probably get past this bit of serious embarrassment –with the public, anyway. The loyal viewers tend to forgive. But the media are different — we never forget.
Now, with this bombshell, it’s as if Tom Hanks really had a body double in Cast Away or that Bruce Springsteen didm’t actually sing the lead vocal in Born to Run.
It’s tough on our collective psyche when one of our favorites goes down for the count. We feel initially confused and we grope to understand how something so unnecessary could happen.
In the news biz, it’s not a surprise that another heavy hitter has damaged his or her image, either through a professional blunder or an off-camera scandal. These train wrecks seem to happen all the time.
tI’s all about the money. The networks just want their news divisions to print money now. They cut costs. They cut quality. They cut standards.
And ultimately,they damage their credibility, too. Ask Brian Williams.