I got to interview David Brinkley about the early days of television news. It is one of the most incredible experiences of my professional life.
I believe that whirring sound you hear is Mr. Brinkley turning in his grave over the Brian Williams scandal. In his day, evening network news anchors were expected to be credible journalists. Those days are gone.
The facts of the Brian Williams scandal
There are lots of suppositions swirling about but we all seem to have agreed on a few things. Brian Williams said he was in a helicopter in Iraq which took both RPG and small arms fire. He repeated that story, in ever more embellished versions for over a decade in several venues.
The story is not true. Mr. Williams refers to “conflating the two memories,” but that’s just BS. There aren’t two memories to conflate. There is one memory, the one where he is in a helicopter that doesn’t get fired on, and there is the story. We have a technical term for that story. It is a lie.
The NBC response
Despite the fact that everyone, including Mr. Williams, seems to agree on those facts, his employer, NBC, has only begun to investigate. They did not remove Mr. Williams from the anchor chair. He did that himself, demonstrating who may really have the power.
You would think, from their actions, that NBC doesn’t care if the anchor of their main evening news show is an admitted liar about his role in the news. Well, maybe they don’t.
How TV journalism has changed
Once upon a time, “news” was something that happened recently. Then Ted Turner gave us CNN and “news” became “what’s happening right now.” Then came the internet and cell phones with cameras.
Today most people who watch the evening news on television don’t need it to find out what happened during the day. They already know. So, what do they tune in for?
Do viewers want to be entertained more than informed?
If the folks who tune in to NBC news want to be entertained more than they want to be informed, it doesn’t matter if the host (that we used to call the anchor) doesn’t always tell the truth. His or her credibility is less important than the ability to entertain.
So much of what used to be news has become entertainment. That could be what NBC is counting on.
What do you think?