ABC’s This Week Criticizes NBC’s Handling of Brian Williams’ Iraq Lies

On Sunday, ABC’s This Week with George Stephanopoulos discussed the fallout from the Brian Williams controversy with two prominent media critics, both of whom agreed that NBC News had badly handled Williams’ false claim that his helicopter came under enemy fire while he was reporting from Iraq in 2003. 

Liz Spayd, editor and publisher of the Columbia Journalism Review, insisted that NBC’s internal investigation won’t provide “enough credibility that gets attached to that kind of an investigation when the people doing it no doubt have personal connections, personal relationships with Brian Williams.” 

Spayd began her remarks by arguing that while NBC needs to properly handle Williams’ integrity issues “the network and Brian Williams should have made a decision that they would have done this earlier when it first erupted. “ 

As the segment progressed, David Folkenflik, NPR media correspondent, went one step further and compared the Williams saga to former CBS Evening News anchor Dan Rather’s false reporting on President George W. Bush’s military records: 

We learn it time and time again. It’s not that journalists shouldn't be thought of as authoritative. But when they fall short, and they often do, it’s how they deal with it that really I think they're judged in the public realm. 

Liz Spayd continued her criticism of Williams by pointing out that because the NBCer appears on numerous shows across the network, including the Tonight Show, he has become a “cult of personality” and his lies travel with him: 

I think that this whole incident is part of the cult of personality, that in a way has taken over the media not just broadcast but now you could have a blogger or a star reporter whose name is almost as important to the public as the media brand that they work for. And so he is a personification of that to the public. His public integrity is on display in whichever venue I think that he's in.     

Folkenflik concluded the panel’s blunt criticism of NBC by calling out the network one final time for failing to be transparent throughout the investigation which could damage its reputation even further:

I'm not sure internally NBC that they have gotten to that point emotionally or mentally. There's been no promise of disclosure publicly of what the findings are. There’s been a promise of telling the staff and presumably the public what the next steps will be. And what they’re really signaling is whether or not Brian Williams comes back behind the anchors desk. But I think they need to keep faith with the public. I think they need to be very transparent. 

See relevant transcript below. 

ABC’s This Week with George Stephanopoulos

February 8, 2015

GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS:  Let's talk about it now with our experts, Liz Spayd, editor and publisher of the Columbia Journalism Review, and David Folkenflik, the media correspondent and critic at NPR. And Liz, let me begin with you. We’ve now seen Brian Williams put himself on the bench for a few days he says. NBC investigating. Are those the right moves and what needs to happen now? 

LIZ SPAYD: I think it's the right move. I think it's a few days late. I would have said that the network and Brian Williams should have made a decision that they would have done this earlier when it first erupted. I think the right move next, actually, is for the network to have this investigation that they've started be done outside. I don't think that there's going to be enough credibility that gets attached to that kind of an investigation when the people doing it no doubt have personal connections, personal relationships with Brian Williams. They work for a network that has a lot at stake. That would be my recommendation. 

STEPHANOPOULOS: And some reports that maybe NBC had known about this in the past. And that is, what -- Dave Folkenflik, what CBS did when Dan Rather had those questions about the reporting on George W. Bush's draft record. They brought in an outside panel to investigate. 

DAVID FOLKENFLIK: And lets be clear, they did that after Dan Rather had used his evening newscast rather disingenuously to protect and defend his now completely discredited report. I think that actually is ultimately what cost Rather his job was the way in which he handled it. We learn it time and time again. It’s not that journalists shouldn't be thought of as authoritative. But when they fall short, and they often do, it’s how they deal with it that really I think they're judged in the public realm. 

STEPHANOPOULOS: The same standards journalists use for politicians. 

FOLKENFLIK: Absolutely. 

STEPHANOPOULOS: And Liz, does it make a difference though that for most of these exaggerations, tall tales, lies, whatever you want to call them, were on shows that were not his own show. Weren’t the reporting, it was him talking about his reporting. 

SPAYD: Yeah. I don't know that that matters to the public. I think that this whole incident is part of the cult of personality, that in a way has taken over the media not just broadcast but now you could have a blogger or a star reporter whose name is almost as important to the public as the media brand that they work for. And so he is a personification of that to the public. His public integrity is on display in whichever venue I think that he's in. 

STEPHANOPOULOS: So what are the next best steps? 

FOLKENFLIK: Well right now I think that you have seen this thing that they called it a review inside NBC News. And I thing it's interesting you talk about it as an investigation. I'm not sure internally NBC that they have gotten to that point emotionally or mentally. There's been no promise of disclosure publicly of what the findings are. There’s been a promise of telling the staff and presumably the public what the next steps will be.

And what they’re really signaling is whether or not Brian Williams comes back behind the anchors desk. But I think they need to keep faith with the public. I think they need to be very transparent. If Brian Williams wants to go on and rebuild his career after this tough blow to his credibility, he's been there for more than two decades. Perhaps he deserves the chance. He needs to make good and the network needs to make good on what happened, what went wrong and what they’re going to do going forward. 

STEPHANOPOULOS: Okay, Dave Folkenflik, Liz Spayd thanks very much. 

SPAYD: Thank you. 

NBDaily Media Bias Debate ABC This Week NBC NBC Nightly News Brian Williams David Folkenflik George Stephanopoulos

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