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 Time.com, 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.”
Here’s a picture of Brian Williams during the early days of his career. pic.twitter.com/vRghg60Kvn
— Todd Mirkin (@TMirkin) February 7, 2015
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.