Brian Williams

Published: April 27, 2015

By Jim Lichtman
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What’s to become of Brian Williams, the stalwart and – up until his abrupt six month suspension in February – trusted news anchor for NBC?

The good news is that NBC News is taking the time to conduct a thorough internal investigation into the fabrications Williams has told the media, particularly about war-related incidents he was supposedly involved in.

williams

According to a story in The New York Times (Apr. 24), the investigation “has examined a half-dozen instances in which [Williams] is thought to have fabricated, misrepresented or embellished his accounts, two people with inside knowledge of the investigation said.

“The investigation includes at least one episode that was previously unreported, these people said, involving statements by Mr. Williams about events from Tahrir Square in Cairo during the Arab Spring.

“The investigation, conducted by at least five NBC journalists, was commissioned early this year after Mr. Williams was forced to apologize for embellishing an account of a helicopter episode in Iraq in 2003. He was subsequently suspended for six months from his anchor position on the ‘NBC Nightly News.’ The inquiry is being led by Richard Esposito, the senior executive producer for investigations, for the news division.”

After it was disclosed that Williams had exaggerated his account that a helicopter he was traveling in was hit by enemy fire, he made a half-hearted attempt at a public apology on February 4th:

“After a groundfire incident in the desert during the Iraq war invasion, I made a mistake in recalling the events of 12 years ago,” he said. “It did not take long to hear from some brave men and women in the air crews who were also in that desert. I want to apologize. I said I was traveling in an aircraft that was hit by [rocket-propelled grenade] fire. I was instead in a following aircraft. . . . This was a bungled attempt by me to thank one special veteran and, by extension, our brave military men and women, veterans everywhere, those who have served while I did not.”

The apology notwithstanding, Williams was given a six-month suspension pending the outcome of an investigation of several such exaggerations.

“The review of Mr. Williams’s reporting is not finished,” the Times writes, “and no final conclusions have been reached. When completed, it is expected to form the basis for a decision on whether to bring him back. It is not clear when that decision will be made.”

Williams’ lies have not only hurt countless service members who put their lives on the lines, they have also tarnished the trust between viewers and a well-regarded broadcast journalist. Once the investigation is complete, I hope NBC decision-makers consult with an ethics advisor about the proper course of action regarding Williams’ future.

“Honesty may not always pay,” ethicist Michael Josephson reminds us, “but lying always costs.”

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