Return with us now to those thrilling days back in November of 2004, when Brian Williams first replaced Tom Brokaw, George W. Bush had just been re-elected president, and while Dan Rather was still playing out his string at CBS, he and his then-network were still reeling from those funny documents supposedly from 1971, but magically produced in New Times Roman type on a laser printer. That’s when NBC president Jeff Zucker told USA Today, “No one understands this NASCAR nation more than Brian.”
Back then, USA Today aided NBC’s marketing department by painting Williams as the anchor best poised to understand those strange Red Staters in the Mist who helped to re-elect President Bush to a second term, despite everything the networks had thrown at him:
“I’ve got to get out a lot,” [Williams] says. “The New York-Washington axis can be a journalist’s worst enemy. Stories have a funny way of sneaking up on you, and the American people have a funny way of deciding what their reality is. You’ve got to spend a night in Dayton and Toledo and Cincinnati and Denver and in the middle of Kansas.”
An example of the kind of story Williams likes to report came this fall when he flew to Dundee, Mich., to take the pulse at Cabela’s, the popular hunting and fishing mail-order house whose megastores draw 4 million customers a year.
Williams reported — presciently in light of President Bush’s re-election — that Cabela’s customers were a force to be reckoned with: God-fearing conservatives who like guns, fishing and the outdoors, and that in 2000, “six in 10 gun owners voted for President Bush.”
One hunter, a young woman, told Williams in a checkout line that she had already picked the tree she’d shoot from when deer season opens.
Recalling that day, Williams says: “I own an air rifle, mostly to scare the deer in our backyard, but I wanted to go back to our newsroom and say, ‘Guys, this is who you don’t know. While we haven’t been watching, this is what America has become.’ Not to pander, not to customize the news, but a newscast that forgets what its audience has become and takes its eye off the ball in terms of what America is, is doomed to failure.”
Flash-forward to 2010, and we see that Brian should have heeded his own advice:
Appearing on the Late Show on Monday night to plug his Friday night Dateline on the 5th anniversary of Katrina, NBC Nightly News anchor Brian Williams bizarrely asserted “we’re still enjoying the fruits really of the Clinton economy,” claimed Tea Party activists who say “we want our country back” want it back “from the Trilateral Commission” and ridiculed their presumed hypocrisy as he insisted “you see a lot of signs, ‘Federal Government Out of My Social Security,’ ‘Federal Government Out of My Medicare and Medicaid.’ But for the federal government, of course, those programs would not exist.”Plus, he passed along how “I’m hearing a few people say” that President Barack Obama won’t run for re-election because he “wants to somehow transcend the presidency,” citing a British columnist who contends he was “never supposed to be an ordinary President.” Williams considered the possibility Obama could be as consequential as Jimmy Carter or Bill Clinton: “Jimmy Carter converted the post-presidency, redesigned the idea of an ex-President. Solving diseases and bad elections around the world. Bill Clinton with the Clinton Global Initiative trying to do the same thing.”
When David Letterman raised the disparity between gluttonous Americans and kids starving around the world, Williams rued self-centered Americans as he incongruously touted: “We’ve had a good run here. We’re still enjoying the fruits really of the Clinton economy.” Huh? The current economy is doing well? And I thought the line was that Bush drove the economy into the ditch and we’re all being saved by Obama? (Or was he saying the Clinton years made us selfish?)
Letterman soon wondered: “When they say ‘we want our country back,’ who, what, what are they talking about?” That prompted an answer from Williams which sounded more like derision than impartial reporting: “If you ask them, they would say from, ‘from the Trilateral Commission, from the big bankers, from the Council on Foreign Relations.’” Williams sounded like he’s still living in the 1980s.
That’s too bad, because a newscast that forgets what its audience has become and takes its eye off the ball in terms of what America is, really is doomed to failure.
Still, as far as television personalities cocooned in the New York-Washington axis go, it’s not to hard to find someone even more insular and out of touch than Brian.
Related: And speaking of a legacy media out of touch with middle America, At NewsReal, Lori Ziganto and Jenn Q. Public round-up “10 Bigoted Remarks Made by the ‘Tolerant’ Left In Obama’s ‘Post-Racial’ America.” Here’s one more entry that’s too late to make the list, but would have likely have been worthy of the judges’ consideration had it arrived in time: “Kirsten Powers’ Long, Hot, Race-Baiting Summer.”