After “NBC Nightly News” anchor Brian Williams this week recanted his story that he was on a U.S. military helicopter that was hit by RPG fire, many questions linger.
Williams first gave an apology to military publication Stars and Stripes about his Iraq story in 2003. “I made a mistake in recalling the events of 12 years ago,” he said on his top-rated show. “It didn’t take long to hear from some brave men and women in the air crews who were also in the desert.”
With the admission, his credibility may have taken a permanent hit that can never be reconciled. On social media websites, many people weren’t happy with Williams and said he should step down.
And it wasn’t just Twitter users who lashed out at Williams.
“To me, this revelation, and the fact that Mr. Williams did not immediately resign is deplorable. The fact that NBC News did not immediately suspend or terminate his employment is deplorable. Journalism is about facts and truth,” Tony Theissen, a former managing editor for WPEC-TV, WFTX-TV, and WTTE-TV, who is currently a brand manager with the O’Donnell Agency, said via e-mail.
If Williams sticks around, it will likely negatively impact NBC.
“Brian Williams—as likable as he appears—has significantly blemished NBC’s [reputation]. As a result, he needs to resign, or be fired from his anchor spot. That isn’t to say he shouldn’t be kept around for a lower visibility role–preferably something off-camera, or occasional reporting assignments–but I think he’s finished as the anchor of their flagship program,” Gary Frisch, president of New Jersey-based public relations firm Swordfish Communications, commented via email.
There were no reports on Thursday to indicate if Williams will leaving his job.
The best bet for Williams, Frisch adds, is to again apologize, but that probably won’t save his career as a broadcast journalist. There seems to be a consensus that Williams didn’t offer a sincere apology for his mistake—or at least he didn’t acknowledged the gravity of the situation.
Williams didn’t just make a mistake in recalling the events, in a 2013 appearance on the Late Show With David Letterman show he elaborated on what happened after his helicopter was shot down, how everyone reacted, what he was thinking at the time.
“What happens the minute everybody realizes you’ve been hit?” asks Letterman.
“We figure out how to land safely and we did—we landed very quickly and hard. We put down and we were stuck,” answers Williams.
Should Williams come up with a better mea culpa Frisch notes, it would help his post-broadcasting career.
“That can go a long way toward making him a success in his post-journalism career, like speaking in front of audiences and as he writes his memoirs and hits the talk show circuit to promote them,” he said. “I think Williams comes off as a very approachable everyman-type of celebrity, and he can use that to his advantage … if he owns up to his mistake without obfuscation.”