That’s the question I’m asked a lot on my radio show or on social media. Why the freak out? He’s just a person like the rest of us. Is he not allowed to make a mistake? Should his entire career be over because his recollection changed? Simple answer? Yes.
Brian Williams is the Managing Editor and Main Anchor of the NBC Nightly News. In other words, he’s the head journalist in charge at NBC News. Is he a flawed person like us all? Yes. Is he imperfect like you and me? Absolutely. But, he makes a mint to be perfect in his reporting of the news.
The best I can tell, NEWS is an acronym for “North, East, West, and South,” The job is complicated and simple, difficult, yet reasonably straight-forward. You go to all ends of the geographical area you’re charged with covering and report what you see. A journalist keeps a journal of what he or she sees, hears, smells, feels and learns then delivers the findings to the listeners, viewers or readers. The job changes a little for radio as one needs a voice that grabs attention when delivering the news. On television, it changes even more in that the person delivering the information has to, along with all of the other necessities of a journalist, present him or herself in such a way that viewers will feel comfortable welcoming the journalist into their homes every night.
You might wonder why I think I’m an authority on what it is Brian Williams did or didn’t do. I was a journalist for a very long time before jumping to the commentary/opinion side of broadcasting. I’ll list my accomplishments at the end. The reason why Brian Williams’ misgivings are important is because the only thing a journalist has when doing the job is integrity. Brian Williams could have chosen any of a number of lines or work in which he could embellish, dramatize and/or make up stories. He could have written for or starred in a Sit-Com or Sci-Fi piece or made-for-TV drama. He could have written, produced and starred in movies on the big screen. Instead, he chose to be a non-fiction, truth-telling storyteller. With it comes great responsibility. A responsibility he shirked.
Williams can lie to his family, embellish that story about the fish he caught to his uncle, make up a story to get out of a speeding ticket but, when he puts on that microphone and peers out to 13 million viewers, he MUST tell us the truth or he may not keep that job. If a person in his position on any level “misremembers” one thing, he can never be trusted to do that job again.
It wasn’t a simple mistake of recollection if one simply examines the information available. In examining the original report from 2003, it’s now been revealed by those who were there that not only did the helicopter in which Williams was riding not take on fire much less and RPG, he wasn’t even in that convoy. He was, according to the military members there, in a convoy about an hour behind. So, this story was flawed from the beginning. Then in 2005 in the aftermath to Hurricane Katrina, Williams claimed he’d witnessed a man’s body, face down, floating past his hotel. Problem is, those who run the hotel — the Four Seasons — say there was minimal flooding there and no dead bodies floated by. In recent days, questions have been raised about whether Williams, as he claims, had really met the Pope in the late 70s or whether he’d been held up at gunpoint in New Jersey as a young man selling Christmas trees. Those stories are less important than another story he tells during his time as a journalist. He has often claimed he was at the Berlin Wall as it came down. Information has since come out that he got to Berlin after the wall came down and that it was, in fact, Tom Brokaw who was there as it met its demise.
These are not simple mistakes — or misrememberings. These, if true, are egregious acts of deception for the sole purpose of self-aggrandizement. Brian Williams is an amazing communicator. I have always loved his ability to be self-deprecating while “slow-jamming the news,” or deadpanning while being interviewed on late-night TV. He was able to pull those appearances off so well because, to us, he was the authority behind the anchor desk who was above reproach. For him to let his hair down and show that he was a real person like us, was a treat. It turns out, if all of these allegations are true, he was never the authority presented to us. And, that’s a real shame. Fact is, we must now question every Brian Williams ever read or reported to us on the Nightly News. And, sadly, his career is surely over.
 I have won or have been a part of winning for my stations, 28 Michigan and/or New York AP awards for excellence in Journalism, a Michigan Association of Broadcasting award for Best Feature and rated the best local news product by the Columbia School of Journalism while serving as reporter, Main Anchor, Managing Editor and/or News Director.