The PJ Tatler

CBS Fantasist Backs NBC Fantasist

Dan Rather, the fabulous fabulist who helped propel the blogosphere into the national limelight, is coming to the defense of NBC’s embattled semi-news anchor Brian Williams.

Williams is hanging by a thread at NBC following the revelation that his war story about being shot down in Iraq was a lie. Rather, who was eventually let go by CBS because his hit piece against President George Bush was found to be a fabrication, came to the anchor’s defense with stirring words of support: He said of Williams that he was”an honest, decent man, an excellent reporter and anchor–and a brave one.”

Forgive me, but isn’t this sort of like Bonnie and Clyde coming to the defense of Willie Sutton? Or Saddam Hussein getting a shout-out by Bashar Assad?


Rather’s note of support comes after the revelation that Williams falsely claimed to have been aboard a helicopter that was shot down during the invasion of Iraq in 2003. Williams admitted Wednesday that he was on a different helicopter, and apologized to viewers and crew members of the 159th Aviation Regiment.

Like Williams, Rather has been the subject of public controversy. In 2004, he was forced to retract a report on George W. Bush’s National Guard service after the authenticity of his source documents were called into question. Rather retired from CBS News the following year, ending a 24-year run as anchor of the Evening News. He now anchors “Dan Rather Reports” on the cable channel AXS.

“I don’t know the particulars about that day in Iraq,” Rather told POLITICO. “I do know Brian. He’s a longtime friend and we have been in a number of war zones and on the same battlefields, competing but together. Brian is an honest, decent man, an excellent reporter and anchor–and a brave one. I can attest that — like his predecessor Tom Brokaw — he is a superb pro, and a gutsy one.”

Williams’ error has led to much news coverage — from The New York Times to Fox News and CNN — and much industry speculation about the newsman’s future. Many believe Williams is due to meet Rather’s fate, while others argue that he will survive the scandal, albeit with a tainted legacy. Williams has served as anchor of the “NBC Nightly News” since 2004, and is one of broadcast’s most charismatic and beloved personalities.

“[I]t all depends on how much is mobilized against him and how contrite and forthcoming he is in response to it,” Andrew Tyndall, the television news analyst, told The Daily Beast this week. “This is not fatal, but it’s really bad.”

Not fatal, huh? Williams, who still implies that he hasn’t been lying for 12 years about the incident but that he just recently misremembered what happened, needs to have a sit-down with someone of impeccable credentials — at least among liberals.

And I can think of no better interviewer to get Williams’ butt out of the wringer than that hybrid journalist/gossip monger Barbara Walters. Walters will bring out the kleenex and both of them can have a good cry about it. They can weep for the soldiers. They can bawl about how much Williams is sorry for his “mistake.” The can blubber over how awful it is that this one, teensy, tiny thing might ruin the career of the greatest journalist since…since…Barbara Walters?

But the truth? Not in a million years. Williams can’t get in front of a TV audience and say he made the whole thing up because he wanted to be thought of as a he-man, or a guts-and-glory war correspondent, or maybe simply because he desperately wanted people to love and admire him.

Williams can’t afford to do that because then it would make him look impossibly ordinary. And TV news anchors cannot be seen as ordinary. They are the popes of the airwaves. They sit in judgment on the affairs of state and the state of the world and when they speak, it is the voice of supreme authority. Vox populi, vox news anchor.

The guy makes a reported $10 million a year because…because…well, just because. There is nothing ordinary about that sum, nor can their be anything ordinary about the man who makes it.

At this point, every time Williams opens his mouth, he damages himself further. No doubt NBC wants to keep him. But my guess is negotiations are already underway to pay him off and let him ride into the sunset.

Is there a “Dan and Brian” show in the cards? Stay tuned.