“David Carr Doesn’t Think Brian Williams Should be Fired,” Ad Week reports on the veteran New York Times columnist:
The New York Times’ media columnist David Carr has weighed in on the Brian Williams drama. His take is essentially that Williams shouldn’t be fired because everyone lies, and Williams was only trying to live up to the standard that America has for a news anchor; a standard that is impossible to attain.
While Carr made some good points — everyone does lie and Williams does occupy a lose-lose role — he loses us when he gives his verdict. “I don’t know if Mr. Williams will lose his job,” wrote Carr. “I don’t think he should — his transgressions were not a fundamental part of his primary responsibilities.”
Actually, his transgressions are not only a fundamental part of his primary responsibilities, they are the only part of his primary responsibilities. His job is to tell the truth. Viewers trust that what Williams is telling them is correct.
Despite Williams’ efforts to become a celebrity outside of the anchor desk, in the old days, it was assumed by the public that even though the anchorman didn’t write all of his copy, he had enough experience and gravitas to shape the material loaded into his teleprompter by his staff. Cronkite was able to carry off that pose (and ultimately, it really was just a pose) based on his age, stentorian voice, and courtly manner; Dan Rather tried to feign the same level of Old Newsman Gravitas by posing with serious Albert Thurston suspenders. (And via safari and Barbour jackets when out in the field; this bit of “found video” from Harry Shearer, in which Rather and his production aides argue for 22 minutes(!) on whether the collar on Rather’s Aquascutum trenchcoat should be up or down during a remote feed is a camp classic.)
As with Hollywood, production titles in the TV industry are often wildly inflated, but Williams held himself out as the “managing editor” of NBC News, strongly implying that he more than just a handsome face reading a teleprompter. (And at least at the moment, still does; I assume, until the official word comes down from the Comcast boardroom.)
As David Zurawik wrote at the Baltimore Sun yesterday, “the dual title [that Williams] holds cuts to some of the core issues in the nightmare of credibility that he and NBC News now face:”
I know it has been merely an honorific for some network anchorpersons, like Katie Couric, and they have left running the newsrooms to others. But if the managing editor half of the title represents the journalistic demands of the job, while the anchorman part speaks to the celebrity aspect of sitting at an anchor desk, Williams has failed at the former, while focusing most of his energy on the latter. And it seems a little too late for him to be trying to wrap himself in the mantle of journalism now.
Williams has been an awful news executive for my money. I could list a dozen examples, but I will limit myself here to one: hiring Chelsea Clinton as a special correspondent at $600,000 a year for his prime-time newsmagazine, “Rock Center” and showcasing her sorry work.
I wrote and spoke multiple times about the awful message this sent to the real journalists at NBC News, especially those in combat zones who were ducking real bullets and getting paid far less than $600,000 a year. And this for someone without a lick of journalistic training or experience, who during her mother’s 2008 campaign refused to even talk to the press.
But the person who hired Clinton and chatted with her on the set like her work was worthy of prime-time treatment wasn’t thinking like a news executive, he was acting like someone who thought it was OK to give a coveted job to someone without credentials who was part of the elite one percent at a time when young people who had worked their way through schools and served internships couldn’t get jobs. This was someone who loved the celebrity part of his job too much, in my opinion.
I don’t believe Williams is too big to fail as some of my colleagues do. I know NBC would love for Williams to survive this nightmare for tens of millions of reasons. For reasons, read dollars.
But the damage is done. I have written about how I cannot imagine anyone connected to or part of a military family not having contempt for Williams after the way he tried to steal some of the honor of real combat veterans for himself with his lies.
That’s one audience I think NBC will lose if he remains anchor.
I also think baby boomers, because of their parents’ sacrifices and lifetime scars from World War II, were raised in a culture where lying about your performance in battle or in terms of military service is seen as reprehensible.
So, Williams might suffer with that audience, too, one that still remembers when the word “honor” was built on deeds — not on the yuk-yuk couch of a talk-show set.
But the most dangerous damage comes with young adults who are seeing Williams mocked mercilessly in social media with images of him in Zelig-like poses at events ranging from Gettysburg to Iwo Jima.
Which brings us back to David Carr, and the Times’ dwindling credibility outside of the newsrooms of NBC, CBS, ABC, and CNN — Carr, one of the more prominent journalists (read: Democrat operatives with bylines) who writes for the Times, the paper that defended Dan Rather a decade ago by declaring his story “fake but accurate” is eager to circle the wagons around the next Dan Rather. (Unlike, to her credit, Maureen Dowd, astonishingly enough.) As for Williams’ viewers, they’re merely “the dance of the low sloping foreheads,” as he contemptibly exclaimed a few years ago on Bill Maher’s HBO series.
Which is why, as John Nolte tweets today:
Shorter today… Media’s Mad That Media Is Being Treated Like Media Treats Everyone Else
— John Nolte (@NolteNC) February 9, 2015
(H/T: Kathy Shaidle)