Four score and three days ago, when it seems this maxi-series began, our hero was on top of the media world. He was managing editor and anchor of the nation’s top rated network evening newscast, a juicy new ten-year contract in his Saville Row suit jacket pocket, a gorgeous daughter in a TV series, a happy marriage to his former producer wife. A 55-year old blue collar guy from New Jersey, who didn’t go to Harvard, or even Fairleigh Dickinson, he was a man who had been considered one of the most trusted people not only in the news business but in the whole nation. According to the celebrity index of The Marketing Arm, a research firm owned by Omnicom, he was trusted by about three quarters of consumers, making him the 23rd most trusted person in the nation, an honor that places him on the trophy shelf with Denzel Washington, Robin Roberts and Warren Buffet. Such is the power of the medium as an educational tool.
And now he is being mocked on the full front page of the New York Post for the crime of walking his dog. “WHO LET THE DOG OUT,” cried the World War III- size type head over a paparazzi cover picture, A PHOTO EXCLUSIVE, embellished with the subhead, “Brian the Lyin’ off his short leash.”
At long last today, I return to my favorite obsession, the time when humpty dumpty had a disturbing fall.
The Rise & Decline of Brian the Mediocre, Part VII
Does the punishment fit the crime?
There are those who say I have been picking on a man with a brain tumor affecting only helicopter memories. How callous can I be?
Talk about killing the messenger.
And here I have been going out of my way to defend a beleaguered newsman in his troubles. No good deed goes unpunished, as they say in the Bible.
. Okay, so let’s say for the sake of argument Brian (We’re Number 23) Williams had a senior moment, or whatever caused the slip of the tongue that brought him down. And the news doctors sentenced him to take two Gingkold Max, and call them in the morning.
We already have established that the veteran newsman is a clunky writer and that his judgment as a managing editor is suspect, having sent himself to the front, where he is accused of mis-speaking, or lying, about coming under fire in Iraq in his chopper, when apparently it was the Chinook flying well ahead that was hit and forced to make an emergency landing.
But is Lyin’ Brian getting a fair rap for his shortcomings as a journalist?
In previous essays, I have been patiently exploring for those who are not news junkies like myself the background for the shocking revelations about what Brian did during the war.
First, we must ask how did Brian get to be such an iconic most trusted newsreader? Kitman’s Law states, if you stay on the air long enough, repetition makes everybody start to resemble Ed Murrow. Looking back now, maybe even Murrow wasn’t Ed Murrow.
Then there is my theory that the job made him do it, if he did it. He needed to do something glorious and glamorous to justify all the praise being heaped on him as an iconic most trusted TV newsman.
Brian is an insecure person, as I’ve been arguing, who never should have been promoted to his next level of incompetence, e.g., The Brian Principle. He was a superman without a cape, a legend in his own mind. And he was honest enough unconsciously to know it.
Given all of that, I still believe the punishment of Williams is cruel and unusual, banned by the Constitution.
Six months off the air! ruled the NBC high command even before the investigation of the charges began. A suspended sentence, tantamount to finding him guilty even before the network’s Esposito Commission commenced the internal probe about WTF was going on here, anyway.
Six months without pay -for what? A crime the majority of his eight million presumably loyal followers of the “NBC Nightly News” did not know, or even care about, seems excessive and unjustified.
If he is guilty, it just proves that Brian is a regular person. He has flaws like the rest of us saints. So he was not infallible, a contradiction to network news’ way of making us believe in the omniscience of their highly over-paid news-readers (“And that’s the way it is” comes to mind).
The punishment for being mortal at NBC News is especially harsh when you consider how other networks treat similar instances of superstars straying from the primrose path.
Take the case of Bill O’Reilly, please.
At Fox News, where honesty presumably is the best policy, when confronted with more and more reputable journalists stepping forward to debunk O’Reilly’s scoops, the network some people think is the most trusted did not suspend what appeared to be their notorious serial liar. I wouldn’t have been surprised if they gave Bill (I was there) O’Reilly a parade up Sixth Avenue in appreciation for all the free publicity he had given the most trusted network for his contributions to news fiction.
Fox News management was a sweetheart boss compared to the hanging judges at NBC. Unlike O’Reilly, who has been allowed to spin away in his fabled “No Spin Zone” unfettered, Williams suddenly vanished from the air the night of Feb. 10. It was as if a trap door under his anchor desk opened— and the face of NBC News had fallen into the Sixth Dimension, and disappeared.
By all accounts, NBC top executives in the high command post on the 51st floor of 30 Rock were running around like the five blind mice with their tails cut off, trying to decide what to do after their star anchorman’s startling admission in the apology that will go down in the annals of apologies that don’t apologize (inspiring the brain tumor rumor). We have an Achilles here, they concluded about Brian. Our record for infallibility is at stake. In haste to hide the body, before the corpus delecti began to smell, and to take advantage of the public’s memory duration factor –currently 8.2 days — the decision to suspend was invoked. The high command hit the panic button—and missed.
IMO, the guilty parties in the Brian Williams case are all those in the cabal that launched the problem in 2003 by pushing Tom Brokaw into early retirement and seeing Brian Williams as the future of NBC News, and should be suspended for six months without pay. They have all gone to better jobs as reward for how they retroactively destroyed NBC News’ credibility, except for one, Andy Lack, who is famous for having made Brian a superstar at MSNBC in the 90’s.
Until the Esposito Commission sorts out how the network’s news division went wrong, their replacements currently racing around like hamsters on a treadmill to fix the problem – luminaries like Deborah Furness, Pat Fili-Krushel, Steve Burke, Jeff Zucker, Steve Capus and especially Andy Lack – should be banned from doing their job of making decisions.
In the meanwhile, a veteran of 25 years in the NBC News organization told me when NBC finally says something conclusive it will be that Brian Williams never existed in the first place, that he’s a very clever computer simulation, and the problem is with his Korean-built software.
Next: Will the real Brian Williams stand up?
The Marvin Kitman Show
April 21, 2015