July 9, 2015

Hey, Brian Williams! What does it Mean to You when Someone Lies?


Over the past five months, American media has followed the bizarre collapse of NBC’s Brian Williams.

The golden goose of NBCUniversal laid his free-range, ego-ridden egg, and what a glorious specimen of human insecurity it was.

Williams’ “misrepresentation of events” that occurred in 2003 while on assignment in Iraq demonstrates a blatant, willful deception of the public’s trust.

The vapid, save-face apology on February 4th depicted an authentic lack of remorse. Furthermore, a Vanity Faire article published in May on the fallout from the Williams scandal hinted that, upon initial confrontation, Williams lacked a basic understanding of the magnitude of his malfeasance, and NBC executives were left begging for an explanation—much less a viable apology.[1]

As NBC and Williams himself later reported, such “embellishments” occurred more than once over the past 20 years— indicating a well-indoctrinated, if not rewarded, pattern of behavior.

Note: The Washington Post reports 11 such incidents.[2] Was his support staff while on assignment not witness to such “misrepresentations?” 

Why is Williams only now being held accountable for his reinterpretation of events?

Call it what you want: misrepresentations, mistakes, exaggerations…But Williams lied for the glorification of his own ego.

In a remarkable feat of gonzo Internet journalism, “Sorry dude…” brought NBC to its knees.

Brian Williams is one of the good guys. He’s not like Rush Limbaugh with his faithful fan-base of fanatics. Williams is, however, part of the privileged media elite. He has a following that NBC will undoubtedly count on to uphold their ratings as they get through this recent crisis.

Williams is only the most recent of several frustrations in stabilizing NBC’s network ratings superiority.

For consumers, the question remains: What does it mean to you when someone lies? For NBC and broadcast journalism, what do you do with a reporter who spins stories rather than accurately reports facts? Williams has violated the Hippocratic Oath of journalism.

And isn’t that just the point: there is no institutional standard against which to uphold the ethics of journalism. We just have to trust our news sources.

The reorganization of NBCUniversal executives provided an opportunity to revitalize its formidable reputation, yet they have decided to retain their beleaguered former Nightly News anchor. This act is disheartening.

For an industry that serves to reflect reality, what is NBC thinking?

According to Steve Burke, CEO of NBC, Williams has earned his shot at a second chance: “We believe in second chances, and I am hopeful that this new beginning will be good for Brian and the organization.”[3]

Williams will, indeed, be forgiven. He has been by NBC. Bloomberg News reported that Williams will assume a role of reporting breaking news on MSNBC and may, from time to time, fill in for his replacement anchor, Lester Holt.[4]

If this proves true, NBC is handing Williams the ejaculate of the 24-hour news cycle with the reward of occasionally reassuming his old role.

Some journalists and news anchors view their work per their own prerogative.

For others, journalism and broadcast news is about conveying the truth, no matter what the cost.

How is it that Williams’ misdeeds are any better or less harmful than other journalists who have suffered worse fates upon discovery of their tall tales? Perhaps the gravity differs from other journalists with similar backgrounds, such as Janet Cooke or Stephen Glass.

Is moral relativism to be the playing field for modern American journalism?

Is retribution delivered by forfeiting the heavyweight title, yet retaining the belt?

Since we are apparently a nation of second chances for egocentric liars who thrive on the spotlight, don’t mind me while I cultivate some compassion for the second coming of a man named Bill, whose wife has eyes on the Oval Office.




[1] Burrough, Brian. The Inside Story of the Civil War for the Soul of NBC News. Vanity Fair, May 2015.


[2] Paul Farhi, NBC News finds Brian Williams embellished at least 11 times. The Washington Post, April 25, 2015.


[3] Burrough, 2015.

[4] Gerry Smith, Brian Williams Finds New Role at MSNBC After Suspension. Bloomberg News, June 18, 2015.




Relephant Read:

Jon Stewart on the First Debate: Liar, Liiiiar, Lie, Lie, Liar, Lie!


Author: Summer Martin

Editor: Renee Jahnke

Image: Ged Carroll-Flickr

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