Posts Tagged ‘NBC News’

Oh Brian, Brian, Brian

February 6, 2015 1 comment

Brian Williams

Brian Williams really is one of the good guys in the journalism business.  Smart, funny, unassuming, a regular guy’s regular guy…especially for a network television anchorman, a category not generally known for humility.

And now his career seems to be threatened not just because of what turned out to be the tall tales he repeatedly told about a chopper ride in Iraq 12 years ago, but by an apology many saw as disingenuous and complete with weasel words like “misremembered.”

Let’s see if we can make some sense out of this because “liar” is just not one of the words generally used to describe Brian Williams.

Rich Krell was the pilot of the Chinook helicopter that carried Williams and three other NBC staffers ahead of the advancing American military forces during the invasion of Iraq in 2003.  Krell talked to CNN this morning and has a different take on the whole thing than the crew members of the other choppers interviewed by Stars and Stripes.

Krell notes that the chopper Williams was riding in did take small arms fire.  The choppers were carrying bridge parts and extensions that took the brunt of most of those bullets.  And the helicopter was part of a 3-chopper formation that flew together and ended up taking evasive maneuvers after coming under fire.   Krell says the Williams chopper separated from the others as it went off to drop off the bridge extensions.  They returned and the brief trip to deliver the bridge parts would explain why the crew members of the other helicopters said Williams showed up later.

Williams embellished the story through the years.  Small arms fire became rocket propelled grenades.   The three-chopper formation, he said, was a four-chopper formation (Krell says the 4th one developed mechanical issues so only three flew in formation that day).   In various interviews through the years, he has mentioned fearing for his life, which might or might not have been the case with small-arms fire, but certainly makes for a good yarn.   And here’s where we start getting, I think, to the truth of the story.

Williams, like many journalists, is a story teller.  And he’s good at it.  And he tells stories like good story-tellers do; with passion, conviction, detail and 100% sincerity.  Even, in this case, while taking license with the facts.  I imagine Williams is not the first person to ever tell “war stories” that are full of bluster and exaggerated breathlessness, but unfortunately for him- he is a famous television anchorman who happens to be the face of NBC News.

If I was Brian Williams, here’s how I would do a second take on the apology.   What did seem disingenuous about the mea culpa, was a seeming implication that he had told this story just once, the other night as he tried to recognize the heroism of a military man at a sports event.  Not true.  He has told the tall tale many, many times before and there are plenty of video/audio clips of such.   Here’s what I’d say if I were Brian next time there’s an opportunity for a chat with Jimmy Fallon or David Letterman:

“The chopper I was in did take small arms fire. It was not hit by an RPG. I have told this story often through the years and each telling has gotten more and more dramatic…like something you might do at a bar with friends. But I am a newsman with a daily broadcast seen by millions. It was irresponsible of me to embellish like that and I have learned my lesson. Credibility is really the only asset I have as a newsman. And now I have to work very hard to regain your trust. I ask everybody for another chance.”

I’d be quite inclined to give him that chance if he leveled with us like that.

In the future, I would also advise anyone facing similar circumstances to use a thesaurus to find a synonym for “misremembered.”  I don’t think this reaches the level of “I lied.”   But maybe something like “wild-ass exaggerating” or “intense embellishment,” might go down better than the weasel-like “misremembered.”   Nobody wants a word like that to end up being their contribution to the English lexicon.

The Media’s Penn State “Exclusives”

November 16, 2011 Leave a comment

NBC News had a legitimate exclusive this week when Bob Costas conducted that riveting, uncomfortable but fascinating phone interview with accused Penn State child molester, Jerry Sandusky. Costas had the perfect demeanor and asked all the right questions and had about 15 minutes notice. A masterful job by Costas.

CBS News, meantime, claimed an exclusive with Penn State Assistant Coach, Mike McQueary that lasted all of 20 seconds and in which he refused to talk about the case. The great headline was that McQueary described his emotions as “shaken” and that he felt like a “snowglobe.”

Yes, as CBS breathlessly touted in marketing its “exclusive,” these were McQueary’s first comments since the abuse scandal broke. That’s technically correct. They also said a window had been opened into his emotions. I’m sorry, but claiming an exclusive because a guy talked into your microphone for less than half a minute and said he felt like a snow globe is not in any way, shape or form- an exclusive. Calling it that is marketing and possibly journalistic malpractice.

Rush to Judgment?

McQueary, of course, is said in the grand jury report, to have witnessed the rape of a young boy by Sandusky in the Penn State football team’s showers ten years ago and then told his father about it before contacting head coach, Joe Paterno. He has been vilified in the media for not having taken action to stop the alleged assault. He has received death threats and was placed on administrative leave and did not roam the sidelines for last Saturday’s Penn State-Nebraska game.

It has since been revealed that McQueary sent an e-mail to a friend in which he says, that though he did not take physical action to stop the assault he witnessed, he did take measures that stopped the incident. He also said he had discussions with police and with the university official in charge of the police.

Everyone is understandably shocked at the vile nature of the allegations against Sandusky. There is much justifiable outrage aimed at a lot of people. But a grand jury indictment contains allegations that have not been challenged by defense attorneys and does not convict anyone- it only provides cause for charges to be filed.

It might be wise to put our pitch forks and torches away for awhile and wait for more facts to become established. The place for that is Sandusky’s trial. And until it delivers a verdict based on facts and witnesses and cross-examination, even Mr. Sandusky is considered innocent.

Until then, we can provide our sympathy for the victims and do things like bemoan the state of college athletics. But it really would be wise to be patient and prudent. And that especially goes for hungry media organizations falling all over themselves for “exclusives” on this story.

There really has been some great investigative journalism, especially by local newspapers like the Patriot-News in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania whose crime reporter, Sara Ganim published the first accounts of the scandal in late March, well before the grand jury’s indictment was handed up. But CBS’ overhyped “exclusive” reporting this week is not even remotely in that same neighborhood.