News anchor violates public trust, suspension not enough

Published 12:12 pm Friday, February 13, 2015

Earlier this week, long-time NBC Nightly News anchor and managing editor Brain Williams admitted that he fabricated a story in which a helicopter he was riding in was forced down by enemy fire during his time in Iraq in early 2003.

On Tuesday night, Williams was suspended for six months without pay by the network for his continued misrepresentation of the events surrounding his coverage, as crew members of the 159th Aviation Regiment contradicted his account, saying that Williams’ helicopter was nowhere near the two that took fire.

The president of NBC News, Deborah Turness, released a statement that evening, which declared that, “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.”

Steve Burke, NBC Universal’s chief executive, echoed that sentiment, saying that Williams “has jeopardized the trust millions of Americans place in NBC News. His actions are inexcusable, and this suspension is severe and appropriate.”

Among the most-watched and highest-paid in the business, it is my belief that a six-month suspension is simply a slap on the wrist of Williams. In fact, I think he should be forced to resign from his seat at 30 Rockefeller Plaza.

As someone whom millions of Americans turn to every night as their voice of reason and for reassurance in a time of crisis, Williams should be held to the highest of standards, and therefore, answer to elevated consequences.

If Williams knowingly lied to the public, then he betrayed our trust. And when issues arise that make us question his trustworthiness, then he’s lost his credibility and integrity as a journalist.

Burke also went on to say that Williams is “committed to winning back everyone’s trust,” but therein lies the problem.

He initially made no claims that his helicopter was under fire — saying on a live broadcast shortly after the incident that the helicopter in front of him took fire and was forced to land.Over the next decade-plus, Williams molded a story that deceived his viewers.

Several other incidents, including Williams’ claims that he saw floating bodies in the French Quarter of New Orleans during Hurricane Katrina, have also come under scrutiny in the past week. Where else, throughout his career, has Brian Williams stretched the truth — or worse — completely fabricated a story?

As a journalist, I know that there are instances where you may follow a wrong lead or receive false information from a source. If you act in good faith toward your readers or viewers and correct the error, you’re not likely to lose your credibility.

However, Brian Williams lied on national television, and continued to tell his version of the story for the next 12 years. If it weren’t for the crew members aboard the helicopters that were shot down, we may not have ever known the truth. When he returns from his lengthy suspension, will the American public ever be able to trust what comes out of his mouth?

Suddenly, America’s Most Trusted News Anchor is no longer so trustworthy.

Andrew Lind is a staff writer at The Tidewater News. He can be reached at 562-3187 or