I have to admit I've been fascinated by the Brian Williams 'affair' so far. Not so much by what he did. He lied.
Or by what any news organization should do with an employee that lies, to the public in particular. Fire that person.
What has been fascinating has been to watch the reaction, both by the press (overwrought) and by the public (nonchalance). It has run the gamut naturally. There's the 'draw and quarter' position, the 'it wasn't such a big lie' position, the 'how come it didn't come to light before this' position, and the 'give the guy a break' position. And there are plenty more, from op-eds in the New York Times to a virtual explosion of memes in social media. Not quite '50 Shades of Brian' but getting there. John Stewart actually managed to hit all those bases AND mention Dick Cheney. If I'm Williams I'm not sure I want to be in the same story with Dick Cheney.
So here's a new one. NBC shouldn't fire him, they should keep him on and in fact they should increase his visibility. Slow rap AND dance with Jimmy Fallon. Weekly appearances on every late night talk show, Comedy Central, SNL and The View. Every time you turn around you need to see Brian Williams. Why? Think Hester Prynne.
Brian Williams represents something that as a consumer of information we should all think about. I should probably mention here that I spent 20 plus years at NBC on both the news and entertainment sides. In fact I even appeared on Williams' show when he was 'Maid of Honor' to Tom Brokaw and was doing his newscast on MSNBC. Among other things now I teach a Masters class in reporting and spend an entire section on the ethics of journalism, a course I remember to this day from the University of Missouri J-School. I forget what grade I got.
That said, few people have benefited from or enjoyed more the expansion of the definition of 'news,' particularly in broadcast, than yours truly. Brian Williams is a child of that expansion. It happened first at the local news level and was summarily dismissed by the network news divisions. There was no way that Cronkite or Rather or Brokaw or Jennings would ever 'tease' an upcoming story. Feature stories in the network news?!?!? Only Kuralt could do that and only after he'd proven himself in the rice paddies of Vietnam. This is the NEWS son, no fooling around. It changed of course as all things do. Why? Money.
The news divisions starting making it, we started earning it, and the next thing you know newscasts were 'profit centers' driven by the overnights, and news people were 'stars' of varying degrees. And then we started believing our own press, maybe we ARE important and maybe we should be MORE important. And if we're not important enough, hey, maybe we can make it up. Who's gonna know?
There are plenty of other forces at work now of course, nobody has to watch TV anymore to get their news but millions still do and overnights still count and 'star power' still rules. Do people watch NBC Nightly News to get the latest information or do they watch because Brian Williams is 'somebody'?
There's a push to fire Williams and the reasoning behind it is that reasoning I laid out in the beginning. He lied, he admits it, he should be fired for the sake of journalism. That was my first reaction too, but now I've changed, the same way journalism has. ABC World News Tonight is a Red Bull version of a newscast. On some nights the CBS Evening News is simply a promotional vehicle for '60 Minutes'. Don't get me started about Lara Logan.
Network news has been 'localized' and I think we can use Brian Williams to remind us of that. So please, NBC, don't fire Brian Williams. I think he represents something we all need to be aware of, that the 'news' should always be taken with both eyes open, that you need to fend for yourself when it comes to information, and that these days there are plenty of places to get it. Compile it, read it, watch it, and then decide for yourself, please. Yes, I think keeping Brian Williams around is a good thing, with perhaps one small caveat. NBC should change it's slogan to, 'NBC Nightly News, Grano Salis'.