Sunday, February 08, 2015

Brian Williams takes leave of absence as NBC Nightly News anchor; major questions about news journalism (broadcast and web) circulate at different levels; later: NBC suspends Williams without pay

The television news world rocks right now with the news of possible fabrication or at least exaggeration in the news reporting of NBC Nightly News anchor Brian Williams.  Mr. Williams apparently had maintained he was in a helicopter that was hit by enemy fire in Iraq in 2003, when he was in a trailing chopper.  There are questions about his reporting of involvement with Hurricane Katrina in 2005.
Mr. Williams has voluntarily stepped down temporarily from his position as anchor, and Lester Holt (Dateline) will take over Feb. 9.  Mr. Williams’s statement indicated his absence would last a few days, maybe a week.  Some observers indicate that he could be compelled to resign as NBC investigates.
Some veterans checked Mr. Williams’s statement and brought it to light.

Emily Steel has coverage in the New York Times here
NBCNews, which has not made the story as conspicuous as other news channels, has a statement on its own site here.
Most big time “real” journalists have “paid their dues” with conflict reporting, which is inherently hazardous, especially now.  Anderson Cooper spent several years reporting from developing countries as a young man.  But there is something about stepping on the turf of servicemembers who make real sacrifices and take real risks.  It tracks back eventually to the new debate on the “free rider” moral problem (not “easy rider”).

There is an inverse problem that comes up indirectly in this discussion, “amateur journalism”, which supplements establishment journalism with much more personalized coverage of some issues (as with me and “don’t ask don’t tell”).  But it might provide a novel issue of attracting hostility, a process that could become another big issue suddenly. 
I was employed by NBC as a computer programmer in the mainframe area from 1974-1977 when I was living in Manhattan myself and worked in the RCA Building Center on the 49th Street side, facing South, on the 14th Floor. 

Two of the pictures here are from the NBC Washington (NBC4) health fair on January 10.

Update: Feb. 9 

Stars and Stripes has published Brian Williams's Feb. 4 interview here.

Update: Feb. 10

NBC has suspended Brian Williams for six months without pay, after a meeting in an NBC Executive's personal Manhattan apartment (and that's bizarre), New York Times story here. The announcement came out today right after NBC Nightly News aired.

There is a general comment that people are distrustful of the major networks, and I remember a "trick" on New Year's Night, 1976, who talked about "the abuse of the media".

NBC has its own statement here.

Remember the 2003 movie "Shattered Glass" and the book "The Fabulist", the unfortunate story of New Republic writer Stephen Glass. 

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