Sunday, June 21, 2015

Brian's Song

I have never been a big Brian Williams fan.

I’m sure he’s a hail fellow well met, but his made-for-TV good looks couldn’t cover up a lack of charisma and his newscast seemed to convey a sense of foreboding and melancholy.

He always looked to me like a guy whose dog had just died.  I don’t need my news delivered by Henny Youngman, but a little pizzazz wouldn’t hurt.

I understand first hand that reporting the news, whether on camera or by keyboard, can be sobering. After all, you’re mostly dealing in tragedy, either human or institutional.

I also understand that Williams was a well-regarded star within the context of evening news broadcasts so my opinion and $2.25 will get you a cup of coffee at Starbucks.

But his stardom and his career ended several months ago when Williams became embroiled in a controversy regarding his experiences covering the war in Iraq. He reported that he was in a helicopter that was forced down by grenade and small arms fire.

That turned out to be untrue. The only thing that got shot down was Williams’ credibility. 
And for that and other misstatements of fact, he was suspended and eventually replaced by Lester Holt, a NBC veteran and the first African American to hold down the evening anchor spot.

Instead of reporting a story, Williams became the story. And that never ends well.

Now, in what can only be called the comeback of the year, Williams will return to television on NBC affiliate MSNBC handling breaking news.

He will do so having admitted his mistakes. He was quoted in the Los Angeles Times as saying, “I'm sorry.  I said things that weren't true. I let down my NBC colleagues and our viewers. I am determined to win back their trust…”

In many journalistic fields, and print in particular, an intentional skewing of facts would get you a seat on the sidewalk. But in a business where ratings apparently take precedent over honesty, Brian Williams has survived.

That seems odd. Conceived as a progressive alternative to the conservative Fox News, MSNBC has struggled for ratings. Among the news networks, MSNBC followed Fox and CNN, with total day viewers of 316,000 and 85,000 key demo viewers, down 20 percent and 38 percent, respectively.

 In a sign of how dire the ratings slump at MSNBC has become, the fledgling Al Jazeera America beat out MSNBC in the 25-54 demographic during the 2 and 3 p.m. daytime hours.

So what do NBC execs do to save a sinking ship?  They bring in a guy with a enough egg on his face to last a lifetime who will viewed more as a curiosity than a savior.

I’m glad Williams will get a chance to repair his reputation, but you don’t salvage damaged goods with damaged goods. And if I’m an employee of MSNBC, I’m probably less than thrilled about it being viewed as a dumping ground for disgraced anchors. And a news outlet with low standards.

Of course, NBC is the same network that, as a ratings ploy, took on Chelsea Clinton as a rookie reporter at a salary of $600,000 per. She eventually left but I was glad she earned enough to keep her in ramen noodles until she could get her career on track.

In the meantime, Williams will earn considerably less than he did as an NBC anchor which was reported as $10 million per year.

An anonymous NBC source told the New York Times it would be substantially less money, but would not be more specific.

Edward R. Murrow, a famous anchor from years gone by, would sign off his newscasts with “good night and good luck.”

I wish Brian Williams the same.

Robert Rector is a veteran of 50 years in print journalism. He has worked at the San Francisco Examiner, Los Angeles Herald Examiner, Valley News, Los Angeles Times and Pasadena Star-News. His columns can be found at Robert-Rector@Blogspot.Com.

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