10 February 2015

Brian Williams to Audition for ‘Daily Show’ Job

NEW YORK -- Ending three agonizing days of self-imposed exile, NBC News anchor Brian Williams this evening faced television cameras once again to answer questions about his veracity in reports about the Iraq War and Hurricane Katrina.

“They were jokes, people,” Williams explained. “I’m a comedian, not a journalist. Give me a break.” He added that his wife finds his stories “very funny.”

Often praised by critics for his quick wit, Williams is expected to audition to replace Jon Stewart on Comedy Central’s faux newscast, The Daily Show, receiving encouragement from Stewart himself.

“Put it all together, and nobody can match Brian’s kind of experience,” Stewart said. “He’d make a worthy successor.”

In addition to Williams’ self-aggrandizing anecdotes, claims that his daughter can sing and dance have been challenged widely.


Anne said...

Very funny because it's sooo true. The news is a joke. This is why most high up newsreaders have such frozen mugs...to keep themselves from laughing out loud as they read the cue cards.

I don't know why he is being called on this shit now after all this time. Not that he shouldn't be, but why was it crafted and allowed to go on for so long? They want to get rid of him now I'm guessing.

Daniel James Shigo said...

I gave up cable, oh, six years ago? Looks like I am not missing anything!

William V. Madison said...

NBC News is notable in that I've never worked there (though I did work at CBS News and ABC News), so I can't offer much insight. The "why now?" is easy, because Williams himself brought up the subject in a report on January 30.

I've seen some reports suggesting that higher-ups at NBC (including Tom Brokaw) knew the Iraqi helicopter story was false and advised Williams to stop repeating it. Of course, Williams' higher-ups are themselves journalists, and if they didn't call him out publicly, then they're implicated, too: one reason you're not seeing direct statements from them now. To admit previous knowledge is to put oneself in a very bad light.

I'll add that I met Williams a few times during his days at WCBS, and while I certainly didn't know him, I found him to be a solid professional and a decent guy. There's tremendous pressure on all the on-air network news people, and if that pressure corrupted Williams, then the system -- as much as his own character flaws -- is to blame.

Anne said...

Indeed it is the system. His job was to lie, modern media is not paying someone millions for anything else. However lies are a luxury for the powers that be to enjoy; not their messagers.

I'm sure he is a decent guy and a professional and I feel sorry for him. As you say such people are between a rock and a hard place.

I'm thinking back then someone told him it would be a good career move and NBC has his back... He might have felt the pressure to lie from his superiors , far more than his own flaws. Surrounded as the modern journalists are (camera crew etc.) only a fool would cook that up on his own. He doesn't seem to be a fool.

They told him to stop repeating it? That's the Faustian horror of it ;once you lie, you must keep repeating it

Why now is the question

William V. Madison said...

Anne, I worked in television news from 1987–2000, and nothing in my experience confirms your assertion that any of us were paid to lie or to purvey anything that we knew to be a lie. On the contrary, the rewards for exposing a Big Lie were tremendous and appealing. Nobody promoted a political agenda, nobody was anybody else's shill. All people cared about was a good story, however it turned out. But the motivation wasn't necessarily altruistic public service: it was also career advancement.

That leads us to the pressures I spoke of, and they're fundamentally competitive: to be fastest, most credible, and most knowledgeable; to present the most exciting story; to beat back rivals not only at other networks but also within one's own network. There's always somebody coming up behind you, which means many in TV also feel the pressure to be younger. Williams appears to have tripped over the pressure to be a tough reporter in the field (this translates as credibility, but also as glamour), which would set him apart from (for example) other candidates to replace Tom Brokaw.

Most days, I'm glad to be out of the business: it's vicious, and from what I've seen, it hasn't improved since I left.

Anonymous said...

Hello, sir, and thank you for a thought-provoking piece. As usual, I have my differences of opinion.

"There's tremendous pressure on all the on-air network news people, and if that pressure corrupted Williams, then the system -- as much as his own character flaws -- is to blame."

Lots of newspeople compete and advance in the industry without engaging in wholesale fabrication of events and insulting the intelligence of their viewers. Of course, everybody, in almost every profession, is under pressure of one kind or another. It won't surprise you to hear that I happen to believe that the duty and obligation to maintain one's integrity are all the more important when there is temptation to do otherwise, and it's how we act in the face of temptation - rather than in easy and pressure-less situations - that provides the real measure of our character.

-- Rick

Anne said...

Bill, my husband worked at a major newspaper during that time..mid 80's to 2003...and I agree with you 100 % about that time in the news media. You see in my post I said " modern media". I certainly was not speaking of back in the day.

What is interesting is he worked in the research dept...which had 15 busy people then when he started. The dept has long since been closed down because the last thing wished for is anything that is " off narrative ".

I was reading about this and discovered why Williams's lie fell down now... His mistake ( besides lying of course ) was he changed and grew it over the years to ever greater proportions and daring do . Then during his Jan 30th 2015 broadcast it finally became so prosperous the lid could not be kept on.

When he first told the story a another helicopter formation from his was shot upon. Then it became an attack on the helicopter in front of him and later it grew again into the shooting down of his own chopper and his hiding in the desert!

When all this started to unravel he apologized. But he did so by falling back to lie # 2; Too little too late

So the truth is Brian Williams was indeed shot down...but by himself on national television.

Foolish me, I thought he was wise enough to keep to the same story he started with. If he had, we would not be discussing this. But he finally made it impossible for NBC to sit on it. Sad

William V. Madison said...

Actually, Rick, we're pretty close to complete agreement on this one, because Williams is an extreme case -- or anyway, I'm unaware of anybody who behaved the way he did in the newsrooms where I worked. Despite the intensity of the pressure, people generally maintained their professional integrity, especially the integrity of their reporting.

But in the newsroom, on the road, and the executive suites, I also saw a lot of sharp elbows, daggers in the back, petty rivalries (if not turf wars), and many, many inflated egos; I heard (and, despite my relatively protected little perch, was occasionally the object of) malicious gossip that would make a fishwife blush. One's duty to the public was clear; one's duty to one's colleagues, sometimes obscured. (One's duty to colleagues in other newsrooms? Easily expendable.) I often compared CBS to Middlemarch: we'd all come with good intentions, we all were morally tested, and we didn't all succeed.

I agree with you, too, that there's pressure in all kinds of jobs -- I've felt pressure in everything from secretarial work to teaching to writing Madeline Kahn's biography. But the money and the cameras (with their attendant power to create celebrity) in television news do tend to intensify the challenges.

William V. Madison said...

And no, pressure doesn't justify ethical lapses. It does sometimes explain those lapses, however.

William V. Madison said...

Anne -- Thanks for your follow-up. As more details emerge out of NBC, I gather that the real tipping point was that Williams made his "conflation" a part of a report on his newscast. Telling tales on the Letterman show evidently was uncomfortable but not a violation of the public trust. (And it didn't help that Stars & Stripes called attention to the disparity between Williams' account and those of other witnesses.)