NBC and Brian Williams still have explaining to do
I believe in second chances and redemption. But NBC's decision to move Brian Williams to MSNBC isn't enough of an endgame move for me.
NBC News has not released the findings of its investigation into inaccurate and embellished statements that Williams made on the news and on other non-news programs. Williams was interviewed by "Today"'s Matt Lauer, and those segments will air Friday. In a statement sent to NBC employees, Williams is quoted as saying,
I'm sorry. I said things that weren't true. I let down my NBC colleagues and our viewers, and I'm determined to earn back their trust. I will greatly miss working with the team on Nightly News, but I know the broadcast will be in excellent hands with Lester Holt as anchor. I will support him 100% as he has always supported me. I am grateful for the chance to return to covering the news. My new role will allow me to focus on important issues and events in our country and around the world, and I look forward to it.
OK, good start. Now come clean with what you said and why you said it.
NBC News Communications followed up with a statement of its own:
The extensive review found that Williams made a number of inaccurate statements about his own role and experiences covering events in the field. The statements in question did not for the most part occur on NBC News platforms or in the immediate aftermath of the news events, but rather on late-night programs and during public appearances, usually years after the news events in question.
When CBS investigated Dan Rather's flawed reporting, the network used a panel of outsiders to conduct the investigation and released the findings, all 224 ugly pages of it. The investigation led to new ethics enforcement and four firings.
Williams admits to making a number inaccurate statements. NBC News seems to minimize the severity of his fabrications and embellishments by saying they were on late-night programs — "for the most part." But some were not. He said on "Dateline" that the helicopter he was riding in was fired on. It was not. He said it again on "NBC Nightly News."
Why didn’t NBC News call him on those false statements when he made them? Producers and photojournalists who were with him on the stories he mentioned had to have known that what he was saying on national TV was not exactly right. Did they report the inaccuracies? If so, what happened to the complaints? If not, why not?
And what does this say about how NBC News views the ethics and standards of MSNBC, if the network places Williams on its sister channel even though he isn't fit to anchor "NBC Nightly News?" MSNBC, after all, allows Al Sharpton to anchor a show despite being a political activist.
NBC News is right not to put Brian Williams back in the "Nightly News" anchor chair. That job requires that viewers trust the person delivering the news. The network has covered an endless parade of celebrities and politicians who have made mistakes then stepped forward to answer for those mistakes publicly in detail.
A couple of years ago, Meredith Melnick wrote a piece for Huffington Post in which she examined a number of effective and ineffective apologies. She also included this passage:
"According to Beverly Engel, the author of The Power of Apology: Healing Steps to Transform All Your Relationships, a good apology involves the 'Three Rs': Regret, Responsibility and Remedy. One must cop to regretting the impact of one's actions, accept the responsibility of their outcome and offer a way to remedy the damage done. A good apology is devoid of excuses and delivered with body language that conveys sincere intentions and true regret. Extra credit to those who find a more meaningful forum than Twitter to apologize."
NBC News has started down the path of offering regret and responsibility, but where is the "remedy" portion of the equation? I would start by saying NBC News anchors will not go on non-news programs to yuk it up. You don't see Scott Pelley doing that. He does the news. That may sound old-fashioned and stuffed-shirted, but we have seen the result of the alternative.
I would also love to see Williams stand in front of a news conference and answer questions until the reporters in attendance collapse in an exhausted heap. What a shining example that would be to politicians and ministers and celebrities who want to see what it takes to regain the public's trust.