It’s beginning to look as though the reporting of a controversy — more than the actual controversy — well might doom the career of a once-trusted broadcast network journalist.
NBC Nightly News anchor Brian Williams has stepped away from the cameras for an unspecified period of time, while the chatter continues about the circumstances of his made-up story about getting shot down — allegedly — in Iraq in 2003. His helicopter wasn’t hit by rocket fire, as he has reported for a dozen years and the network is launching an investigation into the circumstances of Williams’ “misremembering” the events of that day.
Other questions about other stories have emerged.
And now we have media experts speculating aloud about whether Williams should lose his job, whether he should stay, and whether he’s lost the trust of viewers who depend on their TV journalists to tell the truth all the time.
According to The Associated Press: “The real difficulty for a news organization, or a reporter, is that once you’ve made one misstep, it’s really hard to earn (trust) back,” said David Westin, former ABC News president. “You can. But it takes a lot of time. It takes a long period of time with proven performances. It takes a long time of getting it right.”
Here’s the issue, as I see it: All the intense publicity and scrutiny and all the questions that have risen from this matter have damaged Williams’ reputation, perhaps beyond repair. Suppose he emerges from the examination squeaky clean. How does he recover from the millions of snarky comments, the late-night comics’ jokes and not mention the photo-shopped videos that have gone viral showing him landing on the moon, storming ashore at Normandy or planting the flag atop the hill on Iwo Jima?
The nation has made him a laughingstock — and not necessarily because of what has been alleged in the beginning, but because of the reaction to it.
Williams may have become as much a victim of social media as he has of the wounds his ego have inflicted on his career.