Brian Williams's Mistake
In three posts on The New Yorker’s website, Ken covered the apology by — and suspension of — NBC News anchor Brian Williams after he exaggerated the dangers that he encountered in Iraq in 2003.
But anchors require their audience’s trust, as we saw when the former CBS anchor Dan Rather could not rise above third place in the ratings after his reputation was marred by episodes of erratic behavior. Who knows what impact incoming fire will have on Brian Williams’s career. Yet this much is clear: journalists are supposed to be more transparent than the politicians we cover.
The networks have a stake in promoting their anchors as God-like figures. By showing them in war zones, with Obama or Putin, buffeted by hurricanes, and comforting victims, they are telling viewers that their anchors are truth-tellers who have been everywhere and seen everything and have experience you can trust.
Williams has been suspended for six months without pay. His Connecticut home is not Elba, but it may as well be. There is no reason to believe that his plummeting trust ratings will rise. NBC’s evening newscast will likely fall out of first place, instigating a frantic search for a replacement. As Williams “exaggerated” what happened to his helicopter, so it could be said that NBC is exaggerating its expectation that he will return.