DISCLAIMER: The following piece was originally written as a research assignment for my media ethics course. Since I got an A for this paper, thought it’d be interesting to share complete with edits suggested by my professor. Thank you.
After signing a new five-year contract for $10 million a year, NBC Nightly News anchor Brian Williams got suspended for six months without pay following false news reports, according to Poynter Institute.
Considering the public relations crisis NBC has endured with this scandal, it’s only fair for the sake of ethical journalism to fire Williams after his six-month probation.
Williams claimed he was on board a helicopter that was shot by enemy fire in 2003 when he served as a foreign correspondent in Iraq for NBC. Turns out he was inside a completely different helicopter that was not attacked, but behind the main aircraft that got shot.
Once his erroneous statements came to light, Williams apologized live on Feb. 4 saying “it was a mistake.”
When the lies surfaced about which helicopter Williams was on during the Iraq coverage, media outlets started digging through other possible fibs from past news events.
New York magazine’s tell-all reporting on the inner workings of NBC goes so far as to list Williams’ authenticity in meeting seal Team Six on a military flight into Baghdad to seeing a dead body float along the French Quarter in New Orleans during Hurricane Katrina.
“I did see a dead body. Talk to the editor of the [New Orleans] Times-Picayune,” Williams said defending himself to NBC chairwoman Patricia Fili-Krushel.
By stepping up to his own bosses who sign his paychecks, it’s questionable as to why he hasn’t done so with audiences and journalists alike about his white lie.
There’s a reason reporters started digging through his timeline in search for the truth. If he was able to get away with it for over 11 years, what else has he lied about? Can we trust him now?
As a journalist, no matter which medium, there are ethics that need to be taken into consideration to avoid harm in both reputation and society. The most important one is truth and accuracy in news reporting to inform the public.
However, when someone like Williams crosses over as an entertainment brand, there is temptation to bend the rules.
From movie cameos to television appearances in “30 Rock,” “Saturday Night Live” and “The Tonight Show”—all three on NBC nonetheless—it’s clear to see that Williams kicks it up with comedic timing next to Tina Fey and Jimmy Fallon.
In past interviews, Williams expressed his interest in taking over “The Tonight Show” and his endeavors in becoming a late-night comedian star. As his fame grew, he wanted to be part of the cool kids and was rubbing elbows with David Letterman, Jon Stewart and Lorne Michaels.
The “Brian Williams brand” extends beyond him and into his daughter, Allison Williams, who is a main actress on the HBO series “Girls” and starred in the Peter Pan musical that aired on NBC during the 2014 holiday season.
Out of all this fiasco, there are some good news. Lester Holt, Williams’ stand-in at NBC Nightly News, received 9.4 million viewers during the first five days since the scandal broke between Feb. 9 and Feb. 13, according to Variety.
A popular brand can make a mistake with their products and can come under scrutiny from consumers and critics alike. Depending on the severity of the mistake, a brand can lose the people’s trust and scramble to make up for its costly mistake.
But at the end of the day, Brian Williams’ main role was first and foremost a broadcast journalist, but instead ended up like Crystal Pepsi.