On Saturday, embattled NBC Nightly News anchor Brian Williams announced he was taking a leave of absence, but would return in "a few days" hoping that the whole controversy over his embellished Iraq helicopter story would blow over. Well, if that proves to be the case, shame on us more than shame on him. He has now been suspended without pay for 6 months.
Williams may be pinning his hopes on the ability of other liberal icons to move past scandals of credibility, most notably Hillary Clinton, who lied about flying into Bosnia under sniper fire as first lady. That is just one of many scandals she has survived.
However, the Williams story should cause us to question how much we can trust what our news media tells us when they fabricate stories such as these. Dan Rather of CBS destroyed his credibility over that story about George W Bush's National Guard service. He has been a national joke ever since. It would seem that Williams will join him.
This adds another twist to the evolving saga of how Americans are getting their news. The old media dinosaurs like the Big 3 evening news institutions and the newspapers complain that they are being replaced by the notorious Every Man with a Computer and Keyboard or Jon Stewart. It is true that millions of Americans are getting their news from the Internet, the blogosphere, or from pundits like Stewart. But when you look at people like Rather or Williams and the outlets they work for, what's the difference? People have decided that everywhere they look, they are being hit with more opinions than facts anyway. Why not pick and choose the opinions they are comfortable with? It makes little difference.
In the case of NBC, for several years now, they have put forth a cable news channel, MSNBC, which is non-stop opinion-uniformly on the left. The talking heads they feature are straight out of a Mack Sennett comedy; Ed Schultz, Chris Matthews, Rachel Maddow, Chris Hayes, and to top it all off, Al Sharpton.
Of course, those of us on the right prefer Fox News ("Fair and Balanced"). I would be the first to concede that a check of their online news website shows headlines that are definitely slanted to the conservative side, but I would also argue that their TV channel features more true debate with regular liberal contributors than their rivals can match. Maybe that's why they lead in the ratings-by a far margin.
At any rate, NBC needs to come to grips with the fact that the Williams story is just the latest blow to an already damaged product. Add this to the MSNBC embarrassment and the suits at NBC must be
in a real crisis mode. On the other hand, maybe they figure none of it matters in the age of the low information voter. If they are correct, and none of this matters, then we are all in trouble.
Sean Hannity often says that we are witnessing the death of American journalism. I would tend to agree, but we should take no joy in this. The death of a free and truthful press can lead to the death of the Republic.
But on a lighter note, if Williams doesn't return, just look at the stable of possible replacements NBC has to occupy the vaunted Nightly News seat.
Ed Schultz anyone?