Opinion: Brian Williams – Thoughts from a multimedia journalism major


It might be old hat, but the saying “trust takes years to build, seconds to break, and forever to repair” certainly comes to mind concerning Brian Williams’ suspension from NBC for six months. 

Williams has been anchoring NBC Nightly News since December 2004, and the network had even been highlighting his decade feat with the slogan, “He’s been there. He’ll be there. 10 Years with Brian Williams.”

How ironic? The face of NBC News is spiraling down in his own epic tragedy. As an aspiring, young journalist who has watched Williams for half of my life, I’ve never been more saddened to ask myself, “What would possess a person to deviate from the genuine and humanitarian intentions that journalism brings to our broken world?”

I don’t care who you are or what you’ve been through — the worst kind of pain comes from betrayal. To avoid a sappy and emotional piece, I’ll be brief: YOU CANNOT LIE TO SOMEONE, LET ALONE 11 MILLION VIEWERS AND EXPECT EVERYONE TO BE OKAY.

You want to defend Williams? “Everyone makes mistakes,” I suppose you’ll say. Let’s debate.

There are three points as to why Williams should never read a teleprompter from that Nightly News desk again.

(1)  Journalists have the utmost obligation to the truth.

Williams says he “conflated” an anecdote he told on a January 30, 2015 broadcast that he was aboard a helicopter hit by a rocket-propelled grenade during the Iraq War. However, as it turns out, he actually was on a following helicopter that didn’t arrive until 30 minutes later.

This is now prompting new investigations into other instances Williams could have exaggerated, including contracting dysentery from flood waters, and witnessing a suicide in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.

The obligations journalists have include assembling and verifying facts. Accuracy is the foundation by which we build trust.

Deborah Turness, the president of NBC News, said in a statement, “As Managing Editor and Anchor of ‘Nightly News,’ Brian has a responsibility to be truthful and to uphold the high standards of the news division at all times.”

In a valiant effort to boost his career highlights and applaud a retired soldier, the result rightfully backfired.

So far, we’ve learned: don’t lie to the public, and don’t you dare lie about the military.

In return, a huge feeling of mistrust has been thrust towards Williams. My biggest fear, however, is that because of his iconic presence in the world of media, people who aren’t as well-informed of the controversy will associate actual, hard-working journalists as all exaggerators of the truth.

It’s the same stigma as with lawyers being perceived as parasites, construction workers being perceived as perverts or professors being perceived as lazy.

We cannot have journalists, whose main goal is to inform the public on the truth, strive for anything less.

(2) A large portion of Americans think Williams should resign.

Usually, I try and disregard public opinion polls, but when NBC viewership depends on it, we should probably take into account the fact that 40 percent of Americans have lost trust in Williams, while 18 percent have a highly unfavorable view of the anchor.

Twitter exploded and didn’t hold back any sentiment or sorrow for Williams:

“@DrewMTips: Trust @NBCNews….you know, the organization that lies about its employees being shot at.”

“@cynicusprime: ”You know, turns out I wasn’t aboard United 93 on 9/11 after all. So weird.” -@bwilliams, basically”

“@FirstTeamTommy: .@NBCNews’s Brian Williams should face some serious consequences for this shit.  You don’t ‘misremember’ for a decade. That’s called LYING.”

“@GregMitch: Brian Williams says that long ago he, too, wrote a sequel to “To Kill a Mockingbird.”

When the relationship between a broadcast and its viewership depends on opinion and reaction, I’m going to agree with anyone who has a sense of morals that what Williams has done is inexcusable and a terminating offense.

(3) NBC’s reputation is at stake.

NBC News has been infamous for its “awkward” transitions in anchors, notably from Jane Pauley to Deborah Norville in 1990 and from Ann Curry to Savannah Guthrie in 2012.

As Neil Postman wrote in his opus magnus, Amusing Ourselves to Death, “television news show entertains but does not inform, I am saying something far more serious than that we are being deprived of authentic information. I am saying we are losing our sense of what it means to be well informed. Ignorance is always correctable. But what shall we do if we take ignorance to be knowledge?”

Television news is undoubtedly a competitive and harsh business, but that’s not the problem.

No matter what the method of gaining viewership consists of, a basic sense of humanity is needed. If we take away that element, we see ripple effects as well, (or in Williams’ case, more like aftershocks).

In my ideal world, it’d be nice to see Williams officially announce his resignation to avoid the awkward uplift on his suspension should he try and rebuild his career from the ground up.

But what does this mean for Simpson College media?

I can’t speak on behalf of the editorial staff for The Simpsonian. My views are simply my own, but I will say that I love people because every one of us has a unique story — that’s what triggers my desire for journalism.

Ann Curry says that, “Journalism is an act of faith of the future,” and I believe in this wholeheartedly. As a freshman Multimedia Journalism major who has seen Williams as a role model, it’s crushing to see this episode unfold.

But let’s take this opportunity and recognize all the hard-working journalists who are grateful for all they have (a.k.a. the whole Simpsonian staff).

As it seems to be the case with most disasters, the media tends to heavily focus on that one negativity, whether it be the plane crash out of the 20,000 other successful flights, or prioritize the sex scandal over the kid who fundraises for charities.

Journalism provides an outlet to be creative and to learn, but it’s difficult, challenging, thankless and tiring… and I love every aspect of it.

With all due respect to Williams and his “conflated” memory, I’d like to see current Simpsonian editor-in-chief Steffi Lee in the anchor seat one day, but in the interim, Lester Holt will do for now.