Lost: Brian William’s Credibility (JOUR 4460)

On February 10, lead NBC nightly news anchor and managing editor Brian Williams was suspended for six months. He will not be paid during his suspension.

In 2003, Williams was covering the war in Iraq. During his first newscast from Iraq, Williams told a story about riding on a helicopter behind another that was hit with an RPG. But his story began to change when he recounted the story multiple times and said he was in fact on the helicopter that was hit with the RPG. Williams upset many veterans who felt he was only trying to embellish his story and soak up some of the glory. They pointed out his mistake.

On February 5, Williams apologized on-air for his mistake. He claimed he had misremembered which helicopter he was on.

As managing editor, his plan was to take himself off the air for a while, but NBC decided to suspend him. Part of the NBC news team since 1993, William’s credibility has been destroyed. Being in a helicopter that is hit by a rocket is no mundane occurrence. There is no way that Williams could have honestly thought he was on that helicopter. I wonder what other stories he has embellished or lied about.

There is always the possibility that I am wrong. Williams, for some strange psychological reason, could have honestly believed he was on the helicopter that came under fire in 2003. But I highly doubt that. There is also speculation that Williams embellished his personal experiences when reporting in New Orleans about Hurricane Katrina.

Some believe that suspending Williams was a PR move. I agree. His reputation is most likely ruined. Who would ever trust him again? Journalists are expected to be objective and always tell the truth. When the public knows that a journalist has not lived up to these standards, it usually loses any trust they had for that journalist. If NBC had waited any longer to take action, the public may have begun to wonder if the network was covering for Williams. It would have risked losing viewers and credibility. I think it was in the best interest of the network to suspend, if not fire, Williams.

There is a great lesson to learn from Williams’ mistakes. Journalists, public relations practitioners and all ethical professionals should always do research, keep the facts straight, tell the truth and not embellish. It is unfortunate that these standards are not common sense.

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