NBC suspended “NBC Nightly News” anchor Brian Williams Tuesday evening for lying to the American public.
At least, that’s a short and sweet version of what’s going on at NBC.
Earlier this month, Williams revealed he lied about being in a military helicopter in Iraq that he claimed was shot down by enemy fire.
He stretched the truth – for whatever reason – on international airwaves and now he is facing the consequences.
As journalists, his downfall is interesting to watch because the question arises, “Is Williams being held accountable for misrepresenting information or is it just ‘gotcha journalism’ turning its teeth on him?”
Another thing to ask is if Williams be kept off the air because he has lost public trust? Or will the drama soon lose the public’s interest, like what happened with the Malaysian plane or Bill Cosby or the Ebola or Phil Robertson?
Should the latter happen, will Brian Williams quietly make his way back to “Nightly News” to entertain a slightly smaller audience? And if so, is this acceptable?
He should not be allowed back on the air and that, should this paper knowingly mislead the public, we should face the same the same punishment.
News groups from the New York Times to each small town paper to online citizen journalism are held to the standard of trust.
As news reporters, they inform the public with both truthfulness and timeliness.
When either of those factors is broken – especially trust – viewers change the channel, readers cancel their subscriptions, advertisers stop purchasing ad space and readership dries up. Not to mention, sources won’t speak with reporters out for fear of being the butt of the next lie.
Trust is crucial in our industry. Trust between the reporter and source. Trust between the publisher and the audience and trust among co-workers. So when incidents like what is happening with Williams occur, it not only affects the individual who lied, but also the company, his colleagues and fellow journalists.
Again, the Lariat is not above this. Everyone – no matter the industry – will face ethical dilemmas. How each of us responds to these moral forks in the road paves our path forward.
In the incident that the Lariat knowingly misleads the public, the editorial board firmly takes the stance that we be released from our duty.
Just as we believe that Brian Williams should be released from his contract with NBC.
Because trust is broken, it can never be put back together in the same way.
Because that’s what we expect from ourselves.
And because that’s what we want you as readers to hold us to.