Brian Williams gets a second chance, and truth strikes out at NBC News

Brian William will return as breaking-news anchor at MSNBC.
Brian William will return as breaking-news anchor at MSNBC. (Alex Wong / Getty Images)

Lester Holt gets a well-deserved promotion to nightly news anchor and Brian Williams gets to come back to MSNBC albeit in a demoted capacity.

Were there any losers in the big announcement from NBC News today?


Yes, serious journalists – especially those working in TV news – lost big time.  And so did the truth.

Just as ABC News did recently with George Stephanopoulos, NBC News in a much bigger way told its audience truth doesn't matter nearly as much as being inside the tent of elites does.

"NBC's decision sends a cynical message to aspiring television reporters: that credibility matters less than a journalist's personal 'brand,' that truth is less important than fame, slickness and being a corporate team player," says Mark Feldstein, a former ABC and CNN investigative reporter who now holds the Eaton Chair in Broadcast Journalism at the University of Maryland, College Park.

Credibility? Don't make me laugh. When the face of a network news division can lie on several occasions about his record in combat coverage and come back as the face of breaking-news coverage on a sister all-news cable channel, clearly credibility has little or nothing to do with it.

Worse, Williams tried to steal honor from those who have been injured and/or killed earning the gratitude and respect of fellow citizens for their bravery, and somehow that doesn't seem to matter to the people running NBC. I'll bet it does, though, in communities where the V.F.W. hall is still one of the more important buildings on Main Street.

Why in the world would anyone turn to Brian Williams for factual, trustworthy information, especially on major breaking-news stories? What's the logic of bringing him back in that capacity?

In the statement put out today, NBC touted its "extensive review" of Williams and his lapses into what he termed "misremembering," which in the real world is known as lying.

"The extensive review found that Williams made a number of inaccurate statements about his own role and experiences covering events in the field," NBC said. "The statements in question did not for the most part occur on NBC News platforms or in the immediate aftermath of the news events, but rather on late-night programs and during public appearances, usually years after the news events in question."

It should be noted that at least one of them did occur on the newscast that he not only anchored but served as newsroom leader for in his role as managing editor.

But leaving that aside, what is NBC News saying here, that the issue is not whether or not someone lied, it's where and when he told the lies that matters?

Lying is lying, and a liar is a liar. Maybe NBC News chairman Andy Lack should endow another chair at Boston University – this one in ethics and moral reasoning.

And spare me all the talk about "second chances," as in this statement from NBC Universal CEO Steven Burke Thursday:

"As you would imagine this was a difficult decision. Brian Williams has been with NBC News for a very long time and he has covered countless news events with honor and skill. As I said in February, we believe in second chances, and I am hopeful that this new beginning will be good for Brian and the organization. This matter has been extensively analyzed and deliberated on by NBC. We are moving forward."

Maybe you're moving forward, Mr. CEO, but we'll see if the people in social media who have made Williams into a Zelig-like figure of ridicule are as well.


And if Williams deserves a second chance and our forgiveness, why not grant them to dishonest print journalists like Jason Blair or Stephen Glass as well? How about an amnesty for all journalistic dissemblers. Or, is it only TV that doesn't care about truth?

NBC is now launching a rehabilitation tour for Williams that starts Friday morning on "Today" with him being interviewed by Matt Lauer.

How perfect is that? The hotdog who stabbed Anne Curry in the back interviewing the self-absorbed suit who lied about what he did in Iraq and Egypt and New Orleans and who knows where else.

Don't make me laugh.