Just six days after then-president George W. Bush officially launched an ill-fated offensive against Iraq and the oppressive regime of Saddam Hussein, NBC News mainstay Brian Williams was already a war hero.
Or so he would have us believe.
Twelve years later, in February 2015, Williams’ story regarding his presence on a Chinook helicopter hit by a rocket-propelled grenade was outed by witnesses as a sham, a desperate attempt to boost his journalistic street cred.
Williams was suspended by his network for six months without pay before returning in a reduced role as an MSNBC breaking news and special reports anchor.
According to the New York Times, the former “NBC Nightly News” anchor will be the host of a program similar to his previous show that will air at 11 p.m.
Despite the dark smudges on Williams’ integrity, we support his new show, mainly because no harm can come of it.
The swiftness of Williams’ return to network should alarm people, especially given the unenthusiastic nature of his apology, in which he claimed “a mistake in recalling the events” as his defense.
After all, this episode was no isolated gaffe.
Williams claimed to witness the fall of the Berlin Wall as a reporter for WCBS-TV in New York City. To the contrary, a source at NBC News revealed “Brian arrived the day after the wall came down.” Surely, though, he would like to have us know that this was simply another lapse of memory.
Additionally, he claimed to have flown into Baghdad with SEAL Team Six. It must have slipped his mind that the SEALs do not permit journalists to travel with them.
In its code of ethics, the Society of Professional Journalists enumerates the responsibilities and duties of those who report the news, the first of which is “Seek truth and report it.” Once — and perhaps still — network television’s most recognizable voice, Brian Williams violated this creed.
Although his past has been marred by lack of journalistic integrity, maybe Williams has taken his time off to recognize the error of his ways. Perhaps he deserves another chance and will achieve redemption.
He’s served a punishment already in his sixth-month, unpaid suspension. He will be further humbled by his 11 p.m. graveyard-shift timeslot, in which he will follow Lawrence O’Donnell’s program four days a week.
Of course, Williams’ return is not without a caveat. Tentatively, the show will run for a two-month probationary period, beginning in September and concluding after the presidential election, at which point network executives will assess the show’s potential moving forward.
Given his track record, Williams should be kissing the feet of his NBC bosses. Not all disgraced journalists are able to claw their way back into the spotlight.
In a similar incident, Janet Cooke, a former Washington Post reporter, penned a Pulitzer Prize-winning story about an 8-year-old heroin addict in 1980. Months later, she was pressured into admitting that she fabricated the story, returned her award and subsequently faded into obscurity.
Williams’ yet-to-be-named show is a harmless shot at redemption. If it proves to be a dud, the executives can put it to bed following the election. If he performs well, he will have earned his second chance.
He may even find his memory has improved.