June 19, 2015
Screen capture from the  Today Show.

Screen capture from the Today Show.

Brian Williams’ attempt to explain himself to the Today Show’s Matt Lauer didn’t explain anything.  And one reason his mea culpa rang hollow is because Williams did what children and criminals do; he used passive verbs when he should have used active verbs.

Williams said:

I would like to take this opportunity to say that what has happened in the past has been identified and torn apart by me and has been fixed. Has been dealt with. And going forward there are going to be different rules of the road.

He does not say WHAT has been identified or WHAT has happened. He does not say HOW those mistakes have been fixed and he does not say what the new rules of the road will be.  I wish he had said something like:

“I exaggerated or fabricated 10 stories that I told on late night talk shows and speeches. (Then name them.) In each case, I apologized to the people who were harmed. In the future I will stick to doing the news. “

Williams said:

“I am sorry for what happened here.”

Something didn’t just happen. Somebody caused it to happen. He should have said:

“I hurt my news organization, I hurt my colleagues, I hurt my family and I have made a wreck of my career. I am truly and deeply sorry for what I did. I am solely responsible for what I said. I am deeply grateful to NBC that I have a job. Most of all, I apologize to the viewers of NBC Nightly news for having squandered their trust in me. I will now spend the rest of my career trying to gain that trust back.”

He said:

 “It had to have been my ego that made me think I had to be sharper, funnier, quicker than anybody else. I put myself closer to the action-having been at the action in the beginning.”  

He should have said,

“I tried to be sharper and funnier and quicker than anybody else so I put myself closer to the action than I really was. I was feeding my ego. “

There is no need to remind us your stories were partly true. Now is the time to own mistakes, not justify them. Everybody has exaggerated some experience to make himself/herself look more accomplished or heroic than we are. Just own it.  (Full disclosure here, to all whom I have led to believe I was a football star in high school, I was not. It must have been my ego that made me think that.)

Williams also spoke about his statements as if someone else was inside his body. He blamed the misstatements, exaggerations and some call them lies on “a bad place,” “a bad urge inside me.” And he said, “What happened is the fault of a whole host of other sins. What happened is clearly part of my ego getting the better of me.”

In a follow-up question Lauer tried again to pry some ownership out of Williams. Did he mean to mislead? Williams went back to that spirit inside of him:

 “No it came from a bad place. It came from a sloppy choice of words. I told stories that were not true over the years. Looking back, it is very clear that I never intended to, it got mixed up, it got turned around in my mind.”

There’s that passive ownership again. IT came from a bad place. IT got mixed up. IT got turned around.  Own the mistake by saying. “I exaggerated the facts to make myself look better. “

“It came from a bad place” is like saying “The devil made me do it.”

Amazingly, even in the Today interview, he still got facts wrong. About the helicopter story that touched off this whole mess, Williams said on Today:

“I told the story correctly for years before I told it incorrectly. That, to me, is a huge difference here. After that incident I tried and failed as others have tried and failed-and why is it that when we’re trying to say ‘I’m sorry,’ that we can’t come out and say ‘I’m sorry?'”

Nope.  Wrong. The problem here is that the helicopter story was wrong from the first time he told it on Dateline NBC. In that report he said the formation he was flying in came under fire. It didn’t. So he told the story incorrectly from the first and kept getting it wrong. Now, in his apology interview he gets it wrong again?

And the second part of that statement is one any parent identifies as the “others do it” cop-out. He said he tried and failed as others try and fail to say I am sorry. It is a juke move to get away from his botched apology on Nightly News that led to this mess. He could have accepted responsibility in January but didn’t.

We should take a moment to say Matt Lauer was a pro during this interview. He tried again and again to press Williams for details.   Brian would have been better served to allow Lauer to walk him down the painful road of full-disclosure.

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Al Tompkins is one of America's most requested broadcast journalism and multimedia teachers and coaches. After nearly 30 years working as a reporter, photojournalist, producer,…
Al Tompkins

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