Sunday, February 8, 2015

Investigating beyond Brian

Amid the ongoing fallout of NBC newsman Brian Williams' tall stories, a former boss of mine chimed in:

"Let's investigate everyone -- key question:  Does the press "speak truth to power" regardless of who is in power?  That is not a test many will pass -- including Brian Williams."

Let's be clear: in the matter of Mr. Williams' stories about his Iraq war experience, we don't know what we don't know. For most viewers, he's seen as a compassionate, thoughtful news reader and occasional reporter. And now, one who may have stretched the truth on a personal story with minimal news value.

You don't know. I sure don't. The real question may be how long NBC News' leadership knew Mr. Williams' story had holes, yet let him continue for the sake of keeping the Peacock network afloat. The New Yorker's Ken Auletta sums this up here:

By David Shankbone (Own work) [GFDL
( or
 CC-BY-SA-3.0 (
licenses/by-sa/3.0/)], via Wikimedia Commons
We do know that our media-driven culture has acquired a type of kingmaker ability, creating and dismantling public figures of all types. Including Presidential aspirants, Olympic athletes, and entertainers too numerous to mention. It also gives its on-air heroes an occasional free pass. Dan Marino got one at CBS. Jimmy the Greek did not. 

Who gave TV news executives this power? We did, of course. We allowed the nightly network newscasts to make a business of celebrities. We gave airtime and the credibility it bestows to the likes of Donald Trump, Sarah Palin, and others whose back stories are somewhat thin.

So perhaps there should be an investigation. But as many dissect the Brian Williams story, let's look in the mirror. We need to place higher expectations at the feet of TV decision-makers. We need to call out the producers of infotainment-filled morning news shows and nightly newscasts, who frequently serve up celebrities and giggle fests over substantive reporting. 

We must demand better.