‘“If artist commits any act or becomes involved in any situation, or occurrence, which brings artist into public disrepute, contempt, scandal or ridicule, or which justifiably shocks, insults or offends a significant portion of the community, or if publicity is given to any such conduct . . . company shall have the right to terminate.”’
The use of "artist" in this context is actually precisely why NBC shouldn't fire Brian Williams. He is a victim of category error. People think, a journalist should always tell the truth. But Brian Williams is a man playing a journalist on television. He's on-air talent, the same as Al Roker or Seth Meyers. His job is to read copy in the correct tone, performing, if necessary, the correct emotions. Regardless of what you think of him — and I think he's a very annoying person — there's no denying that he reached the highest levels of his profession because he's clearly very good at his job. (Which, again, is reading.)
This may sound excessively cynical, but I think you had to be fairly susceptible to bullshit to ever think Brian Williams was anything other than a preening showman, play-acting sincerity and gravitas. But even if you think news anchors should be held to ethical standards similar to those we (supposedly) hold "real" journalists to, it's hard to see how any of Williams' crimes were disgraceful enough to warrant his firing, especially considering what other people get away with.
Part of the knock on Williams is that his obvious eagerness to joke around with professional comedians demeans his role as a newsman. But Tom Brokaw, the sanctimonious guardian of the integrity of NBC News himself, was (and is) a frequent late night comedy show guest; not even David Letterman's move from NBC to CBS stopped Brokaw from stopping by regularly to yuk it up with his old friend Dave.
And, sure, Brokaw hasn't been caught inserting himself into stories. But Williams has been shown to habitually embellish or fabricate personal anecdotes, not news. He's not trying to mislead anyone about anything besides how interesting a life Brian Williams has led. His only agenda is to make himself seem like a raconteur. His journalistic crimes are far, far less severe than those of, say CBS's Lara Logan, who, driven by her political agenda, reported and aired, on the most prestigious and respected investigative news program on American network television, a wholly fictional account of the Benghazi attack. She, too, was given a timeout, but she returned to "60 Minutes," with barely any protest from media watchdogs, last year. Williams will, I'd bet, never work for NBC again.
Even Dan Rather, who was ousted from CBS for his part in the George W. Bush Air National Guard documents debacle, was allowed to continue anchoring the news for another six months before "voluntarily" retiring from the job. Those were fuck-ups that actually had something to do with news.
These people are all guilty of bad journalism. Brian Williams just wants everyone, from Jimmy Fallon to Nick Denton to Our Brave Troops, to think he's cool. If we want real journalists to deliver the news in addition to gathering it, get ready for unwatchable TV news programs. If we want entertainers to read the news — and we clearly do — we have to deal with the fact that entertainers are desperate, attention-seeking flakes.
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