NBC News has suspended Brian Williams for six months as punishment for lying about being shot at in Iraq and, quite likely, telling other tall or embellished tales. NBC News stated that Williams “misrepresented” events in a broadcast last Friday about his coverage of the Iraq War in 2003, and that “it then became clear that on other occasions Brian had done the same while telling that story in other venues.” NBC concluded: “This was wrong and completely inappropriate for someone in Brian’s position.”
Williams’ suspension is also wrong and inappropriate. Suspension would be an appropriate response to misconduct that didn’t go to the heart of Williams’ job, which is to accurately report facts. For example, if Williams had engaged in drunk driving or made sexual advances towards a fellow employee, a suspension might make sense.
Suspensions are also used pending an investigation into wrongdoing. NBC doesn’t need six months to investigate Williams. It’s already concluded that he lied about the news.
Having reached this conclusion, NBC should fire Williams. Alternatively, if it somehow believes that he’s fit to keep presenting news, it should put him back the air. Williams won’t be any more credible as a news presenter in six months than he is now.
The suspension may well be an attempt to salvage Williams’ career at the network. Although objectively Williams won’t be more credible in six months, people may not sense his lack of credibility as acutely. However, NBC’s statement announcing the suspension leads to only one conclusion — Williams’ career at the network should not be salvaged.
Finally, let me weigh in on a question being widely discussed on the internet and television: should conservatives be happy about Williams’ downfall?
The answer, I think, is no, for at least two reasons. First, by all accounts, Williams is a decent man. We should not enjoy it when decent men fall.
Second, there is little chance that NBC News will replace Williams with a less liberal, less biased anchor. Thus, from a political perspective, there’s no reason to welcome Williams’ departure (whether for six months or permanently).
We should, though, be unhappy if NBC News doesn’t sack Williams. The survival of a persistent liar as news presenter for a major network would be a terrible sign for the condition of our polity.
JOHN adds: I can’t disagree with Paul’s logic. But for me, the personal often takes priority over principle. I have only met Brian Williams once. It was when I was in New York, at Rockefeller Center, to participate in NBC’s coverage of the 2004 election. I am not sure whether I had heard of Williams at that time; if so, barely. But at some point during the evening, he tracked me down to introduce himself and tell me how much he admired what we were doing on Power Line. He seemed like a genuinely nice guy, as many have said in connection with his current problems.
I can’t wish him ill, and I have no desire to pile on as others pick through his public statements over the last decade. It seems obvious that Williams portrayed himself as more of a war correspondent, and less of a news reader, than was justified by the facts. On the other hand, I don’t think I would have the courage to board a helicopter in a war zone or anywhere else, let alone tolerate being shot at. For what it’s worth, I would be willing to forgive Williams his exaggerations and welcome him back as a news reader. Not an exalted role, perhaps, but an honorable one, if done honestly.