What Brian Williams Should Do Next

(For a later updated blog on Williams, please click here)

“I don’t know what screwed up in my mind.”
– Brian Williams, NBC Evening News anchor


NBC News photo

Mr. Williams will have to do better than that to explain his false statements that his helicopter was shot down in Iraq in 2003. Actually, another chopper was shot down, not his.

When he repeated the false story last week, the Internet exploded with criticism from veterans who were there, leading to an expose in Stars and Stripes.

Williams apologized on the air during a newscast this week, but offered no explanation for why it happened.

Williams must now be willing to adhere to the same level of accountability he would expect from the people he covers. He must face the media. He should hold¬†a press conference (or perhaps a hard-hitting interview with a non NBC journalist) to explain why someone should believe this is a case of sloppy memory or exaggeration, not deliberate deceit. This will allow his viewers, nearly nine million of them a night, to judge for themselves. If he’s not convincing, he’s toast.

Personally, I want to believe Williams did not deliberately lie. He must have known there were too many witnesses to refute his story and he himself has publicly reported it was not his helicopter that was hit. In 2003, he reported, “the Chinook ahead of us was almost blown out of the sky.” In a 2007 blog, he wrote, a RPG hit the “tail rotor of the chopper flying in front of ours.”

Why would a real liar behave this way?

Our memory can play tricks on us sometimes and the alterations often paint us in a more favorable light. Just ask your buddies to recall their best high school football moments. But network news anchors face a higher standard because credibility is the coin of their realm.

I have met Mr. Williams and have followed his career closely. I admire his self- effacing sense of humor. But if he doesn’t face the music in a convincing way, they will start playing “Taps” on his job.

The lead on the “Brian Williams Story” today: Giving people a choice between “sloppy with the facts” and “outright lying” is not a good place for any journalist to be in.

The writer is a former TV news anchor who runs a training seminar, speaking coaching and media strategy firm.