On Page 1, NY Times Warned ‘Williams Digs Himself Deeper’

Posted on Sat 02/07/2015 by

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TimGrahampicture-13-1409699701By Tim Graham ~

The New York Times caught up to Thursday’s Washington Post and put the Brian Williams phony-RPG scandal on the front page on Friday. This surely explains how ABC and CBS were shamed into acknowledging this was real on TV on Friday morning.

“With Apology, Williams Digs Himself Deeper” was the Times headline, and the story continued onto page B-8, which was entirely dedicated to the Williams scandal. Inside the pull quote was “Some have called for Brian Williams to quit over his story of being fired on in Iraq.”

Jonathan Mahler, Ravi Somaiya, and Emily Steel reported:BriWi-205

On Thursday, his real problems started. A host of military veterans and pundits came forward on television and social media, challenging Mr. Williams’s assertion that he had simply made a mistake when he spoke, on several occasions, about having been in a United States military helicopter forced down by enemy fire in Iraq in 2003. Some went so far as to call for his resignation.

It’s unclear at this point whether Mr. Williams will feel compelled to speak again to the issue. What is clear is that the trustworthiness of one of America’s best-known and most revered TV journalists has been damaged, and that the moral authority of the nightly network news anchor, already diminished in the modern media era, has been dealt another blow.

NBC has not commented on the controversy, either to support Mr. Williams or to clarify the details of the episode, nor did it make him available for comment. It’s also not clear if other people at NBC were aware that Mr. Williams’s version of the events was inaccurate.

The Times noted that politicans like Hillary Clinton and Sen. Richard Blumenthal had exaggerated war stories abroad, “But for a journalist — and in particular, an anchor — to do so has struck many people in the news industry as a very different sort of offense. While most were unwilling to publicly criticize a colleague, few were persuaded by Mr. Williams’s explanation.”

“My inbox is filled today with producers who went to Iraq with me, to Afghanistan with me, to Haiti with me, all kind of wondering how you could mess this up,” said Aaron Brown, a former anchor for CNN. “I have no answer for that. I will tell you that getting shot at is not something you forget.”

The story ended with Williams being mocked on Twitter: “Brian Williams will be fine,” Andy Levy, a Fox News commentator, wrote on Twitter. “If he can survive being hit by an R.P.G., he can survive this.”

Below that article was a piece by Times TV critic Alessandra Stanley titled “After a Decade Building Trust, an Anchor Starts a Firestorm With One Wrong Move.”

It is a “thing that you build slowly, over time,” according to grandiloquent promos last fall that extolled Brian Williams’s 10th anniversary as anchor of “NBC Nightly News.” Over shots of Mr. Williams talking to soldiers and small children in war zones and disaster areas, the narrator, Michael Douglas, adds, “And what you build, if you work hard enough, if you respect it, is a powerful thing called trust.”

It may take 10 years to earn it, but trust in news anchors can be shaken in less than 10 minutes.

Stanley suggested Williams was facing the reality that “the higher you rise, the less real reporting you do.” While his experience in Iraq “wasn’t as perilous as he painted it to be, but it was certainly dangerous and scary.”

This was a year before he became the chief anchor, two years before he made his bones covering Hurricane Katrina, and Mr. Williams back then was still seen by many as a television star whose rise had more to do with his suave manner and good looks (he was one of GQ’s men of the year in 2001) than hardship posts overseas.

War stories get more polished in the retelling, and the temptation to self-aggrandize is all the greater, and easier, for people who are puffed up by the camera lens and the cult of celebrity. By the time Mr. Williams told the story to David Letterman in 2013, he sounded like Sergeant York.

A public apology is just the first step, and Mr. Williams’s mea culpa wasn’t very humble. He made his fib sound like a one-time misguided effort to pay homage to veterans. This time Mr. Williams really is under fire: He must now endure days of media scrutiny, schadenfreude from his rivals and an overflow of social media scorn, snark and satire. He has been at the top of his field and the ratings for a decade, but time has shown that these kinds of disgraces linger, not so much forgotten as sometimes subsumed by the next celebrity misstep.

The weirdest thing about the scandal is that Mr. Williams didn’t make a journalistic blunder — as, say, the former CBS anchor Dan Rather did in 2004 with a flawed 60 Minutes report on President George W. Bush’s service in the National Guard. (As a result, Mr. Rather was forced to step down as CBS Evening News anchor.) But these days, network newscasts are so personality-driven that the anchor’s personal life — and in Mr. Williams’s case, that includes his daughter’s acting career — is flaunted on the air and treated like news. And by that equation, a personal failing looms almost as large as a professional one.

Those puffy NBC promos that promote Mr. Williams’s “battle scars” and “integrity” don’t help. As one of them puts it, “You can’t see experience, but you know it when it’s there.”

Tim Graham contributes at NewsBusters. He is Director of  Media Analysis at the Media Research Center and is the author of the book “Pattern Of Deception: The Media’s Role In The Clinton Presidency”.

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