Delivering the commencement address Sunday at Ohio State University in Columbus, where he was awarded an honorary Doctor of Journalism degree, NBC Nightly News anchor Brian Williams implied America is broken as he told the graduates: “We need you to fix the country.”
That clip, squeezed in between Al Gore at Carnegie Mellon and Martin Sheen at Notre Dame, aired as part of an annual compilation of commencement advice run at the end of Monday's NBC Nightly News. NBC also aired this from Williams: “We need you all now to step up. And every adult in this place has every faith that you're up to the job.”
Video of a commencement story on the Web site of NBC's Columbus affiliate, WCMH-TV, featured a longer version of the line from Williams: “We need you to fix the country -- and I'm sorry to ask this of you.” In another soundbite aired by the local station, Williams paraphrased Bill Clinton: “There is nothing wrong with America that someone from Ohio State can't fix. Go get them OH!”
[UPDATE, 10:30 PM EDT: I found full video on MSNBC.com (Breitbart TV has that same 13-minute Flash video here), and the entire address isn't as political as the “we need you to fix the country” comment suggested. Williams, however, apologized: “On behalf of my generation, I'm so sorry, the Internet is so cool we got sidetracked.” He urged the graduates to “pick one area” and do something about it, recommending they “start with climate” since “something tells me this may be a challenge in the years ahead” to “find a way to get around without fuel in our tanks that comes from an enemy of this country.”
Echoing a theme of those calling for “change,” Williams pleaded:
We won't see an election like this for decades again in this country. We are at a crossroads. They don't get more important and it's so important that you all get involved. Put your generational stamp on American politics.
Williams scolded bloggers for writing about themselves, exhorting bloggers to talk “about all of us” since “we need to start thinking of us as the collective, the United States that we used to know.”]
It may well be that polls show many Americans think the nation is heading in the wrong direction, but does that mean it is appropriate for a journalist -- in a national election year -- to declare that America needs to be “fixed,” clearly suggesting the country is broken?
I looked around the Web extensively for more of what Williams said, June 8, in order to get a fuller quote to put it all in context, but came up empty. The Columbus Dispatch's Monday story didn't quote Williams, the Ohio State commencement page does not have text of the prepared remarks, the OSU press release page offers nothing, the student newspaper hasn't published since June 2 and the WOSU-TV channel 34 site has a page with video highlights of past commencements, but nothing yet from the latest one [UPDATE, Tuesday 5 PM EDT: video highlights (wmv and rm) now posted, with the entirety of the remarks from Williams.] And Williams has not posted anything about it on his Daily Nightly blog.
UPDATE: The portion I transcribed from the Flash video posted on MSNBC.com of nearly the entire June 8 remarks:
...I come here today with a request for the Class of '08: We need you to fix the country -- and I'm sorry to ask this of you. And I'm deadly serious and we really do. I am 49 and on behalf of my generation, I'm so sorry, the Internet is so cool we got sidetracked. I can burn an hour on Perez Hilton like that. And I know I speak for a lot of you: WebMD, very cool, except anything I've ever punched in comes back “thyroid cancer.”
The Internet is fantastic and it takes way too much of our time, so, with apologies, we need you all now to step up and every adult in this place has every faith that you're up to the job. You are today, as of today, as fearsome a weapon as the one they assembled during the Manhattan project in a similar place -- Soldier Field up in Chicago. You are the most fearsome weapon in the world. You are students in the United States of America armed with a newly-minted college degree from the Ohio State University.
So pick one area: energy, politics, diplomacy, science, education, military, transportation. Start with climate. Something tells me this may be a challenge in the years ahead. Tomorrow's predicted high for Columbus is 220 degrees.
Energy policy: Can you please help us find a way to get around without fuel in our tanks that comes from an enemy of this country?
We can no longer fly dependably, commercially point to point in this country...
Politics: Pick a campaign. Campaign for McCain, campaign for Obama, campaign for the Libertarian, for the Vegan Party, but volunteer, get out there and campaign for someone. We won't see an election like this for decades again in this country. We are at a crossroads. They don't get more important and it's so important that you all get involved. Put your generational stamp on American politics.
Dial in and pay attention, and I say that as part of a group we all have to start thinking and acting as one. There are, as of this week, 117 million blogs in the United States. One more time: 117 million blogs. And I stand here today as one of them. And what do most of us bloggers talk about? Us. And the problem is we need to start talking about us, all of us. We need to start thinking of us as the collective, the United States that we used to know. It's going to require a lot of work.
I am proud to say that in my life and my job I am able to spend a lot of time with American in uniform. They are magnificent and would so enjoy this here today....They too, as you are, are the very best of your generation. Think of them when you think you're having a bad day....Will all veterans of the U.S. armed forces please do us the honor of standing up in place?...