Brian Williams and Journalistic Integrity

shane-madill
February 11, 2015
This article was published more than 2 years ago.
Est. Reading Time: 3 minutes

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Fabricating fictional stories to pass off as news is simply unacceptable for serious journalism. It diminishes the credibility of the media, it spits in the face of anyone affected by these events, and it makes fools of the public.

NBC Nightly News anchor Brian Williams is under investigation for claiming he was in a helicopter that had been hit with a rocket-propelled grenade in Iraq in 2003. Williams recently admitted he was never on the attacked helicopter. The military news site called Stars and Stripes also brought forward a claim from one of the crew members on his helicopter that they were an hour behind the one that was actually attacked. Williams’ response was, “and that’s the first I’ve heard of that. I did not think we were in trail by that far.”

Witnesses have also come forward stating that his coverage of Hurricane Katrina in 2005 contained inaccurate or fabricated stories, including a story about gangs infiltrating the Ritz-Carlton he was staying at. The story goes that he and the NBC members he was with were all trapped in the hotel by armed gangs brandishing guns and terrorizing guests. He made a break for it to make it outside the hotel, where a gang was ready to take the NBC vehicle they came in. Louisiana National Guardsman then appeared to confront the gang, and ensured that the NBC members could enter their vehicle and escape.

There are inconsistencies with this told story in two interviews between Williams and two separate authors named Douglas Brinkley and Judith Sylvester. The New Orleans Times-Picayune reported that Williams “rushed to the scene only to find that although a group of men had tried to enter the hotel, they weren’t armed and were easily turned back by police.” Other witnesses also claim there were no gangs at all.

There are also investigations into his reporting of events in the Lebanon-Israel 2006 war, including claims that Hezbollah rockets exploded under his helicopter. Williams has told varying versions of this story through the years with inconsistencies pertaining to where the rockets were seen. His written blog for NBC News makes no mention of rockets.

The public deserves the truth from their news broadcasts. I don’t know whether to be impressed that Williams was able to deceive his viewers for this long without being caught or disgusted that it took this long to find out. It is entirely possible that Williams remains employed after these investigations. After all, he is a large part of their ratings as there is an appeal in his confident demeanour and tone delivering stories. He continues to receive support from fans old and young across his lengthy career in the public eye.

This is unacceptable. We must not stand for liars delivering our news. We should demand our public figures tell facts instead of fiction, truths instead of falsehoods, and realities instead of fantasies. While admitting to the falsified Iraq story is admirable in its own way, the repercussions must be strong enough to demonstrate the value of journalistic integrity over ratings. Any credibility that NBC wishes to salvage rides on the decision to keep Brian Williams on their cast. I fear that the wrong decision will be made.

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Update: NBC has announced that Brian Williams will be suspended without pay for six months. Lester Holt will continue to substitute anchor in his stead. "By his actions, Brian Williams has jeopardized the trust millions of Americans place in NBC News," NBC Universal Chief Executive Steve Burke said in a network statement. “His actions are inexcusable and this suspension is severe and appropriate.”

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