Wednesday, May 22, 2024

Brian Williams Mocked on Social Networks as Scandal Erodes Trust, Anchor Takes Leave


UPDATE Brian Williams will be replaced by Lester Holt this week. And, I predict, permanently.

EARLIER The Brian Williams scandal is turning into a big social media problem for NBC. Williams, since he admitted to lying about being shot at in helicopter in Iraq in 2003, is being mocked viciously on Twitter and Facebook.

But Joe Klein, writing on, posted an essay defending Williams tonight: “Accept Brian Williams Apology.” Klein writes: “The judgments about whether the NBC anchor should be fired, from pundits who never saw the inside of a chinook helicopter, are self-righteous and gagging.”

Recounting his own faulty memory as a war correspondent, Klein writes: “I understand Brian Williams’ predicament. Our memories are not very reliable, especially in life-and-death situations. Part of it is, yes, our need to aggrandize the risks we take; part of it is our minds’ reaction to fear. Part of it is that journalism involves story-telling and sometimes the story gets carried away with itself. Mistakes are made.”

Still, NBC is in trouble. The nightly news anchor must be trusted so that in an emergency viewers will turn to him or to her. Williams is now under more fire than he was in that helicopter. Dan Rather was undermined in this way long before the scandal that caused his ouster. Beginning with his “What’s the frequency, Kenneth?” episode, Rather became a punchline. The rock group REM had a hit using that phrase– Rather said he heard it from two muggers–and that was the beginning of the end.

Every pundit is now wondering who NBC could send to pitch in for Williams, by the way. Katie Couric ain’t happening. Jake Tapper is under contract to CNN. NBC does have a great second liner ready to fill in– Harry Smith. This is a real newsman, no fooling around. If Williams needs a break, I’d send in Harry Smith in a minute.

Roger Friedman
Roger Friedman
Roger Friedman began his Showbiz411 column in April 2009 after 10 years with Fox News, where he created the Fox411 column. His movie reviews are carried by Rotten Tomatoes, and he is a member of both the movie and TV branches of the Critics Choice Awards. His articles have appeared in dozens of publications over the years including New York Magazine, where he wrote the Intelligencer column in the mid 90s and covered the OJ Simpson trial, and Fox News (when it wasn't so crazy) where he covered Michael Jackson. He is also the writer and co-producer of "Only the Strong Survive," a selection of the Cannes, Sundance, and Telluride Film festivals, directed by DA Pennebaker and Chris Hegedus.

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