Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Foot in Mouth

I'm pretty good about shooting off my mouth when it concerns people in other industries.  It's only fair that we examine a problem with one of our own.

By now, you know Brian Williams of NBC is in hot water for exaggerating his involvement in a military operation in Iraq more than a decade ago.  Williams has taken himself off the air while NBC conducts an internal investigation and the heat dies down.

A little perspective...

Several years ago, and I don't recall the ABC and CBS anchors at the time, there was an anchor face time study done.  Brian Williams was on camera the most.  He had more video-less stories, often referred to as "readers."  His introductions to reporter pieces were the longest of the Big 3.  Red flag 1:  I smell a pomposity issue.

Red Flag 2:  The guy likes to talk about himself.  Brian Williams frequently appears on non-news entertainment shows.

Okay, it's clear he lied, or as Brian Williams put it, "mis-remembered."

Would I fire him?  Tough call.  I'm sure NBC is looking at a lot of research this week.  The network put itself in a pickle with no heir apparent.  I almost understand that.  Brian Williams is 55.  He has several good years ahead.   NBC didn't think it had to face successor issues any time soon.

I'd like to say the "body of work" argument is in Williams' favor, unless more lies come out.  He's been a rock for years, and you'd hate to throw that away.  But then again, Dan Rather over at CBS made an error so huge, and an apology so weak, that he had to go.  Brian Williams is in that ballpark.

I talked about this with a former news director, one of the smartest people I've ever worked for.  He thinks Williams will survive, but NBC needs to ban its people from crossing the line and appearing on entertainment shows.  Remember, Williams got in trouble not on NBC Nightly News, but in non news venues, like David Letterman.  The lies eventually infiltrated NBC's signature broadcast.

I'd also like to say that TV news people are human.  Mistakes are made.  We are a forgiving society.  On the other hand, this was not a one time shot.  Brian Williams "mis-remembered" over and over again, during a period of several years.

But then again, if this was a low or mid level reporter or producer, they would likely be out the door-- quick, fast, and in a hurry,

NBC Nightly is a big cash cow for the network.  This is a really tough call.  Brian Williams is permanently damaged.  I think he'll survive because the Iraq chopper story didn't involve his actual reporting or anchoring.  I'd probably keep him in the anchor chair, but I'm still not totally comfortable with the decision.

Late yesterday, NBC suspended Brian Williams, without pay, for six months.  He's lucky he wasn't fired.  There are some whispers that NBC can still pull that trigger if more "mis-remembering" pops up.  It's a strong move by the network.  I'm sure it will take a ratings hit, which means a financial hit.  When it comes right down to it, NBC really had no choice.