However, the additional truth is a great reputation — even one built over years of accomplishment — can be trashed by a false step. One wrong can outweigh much right.
NBC newsman Brian Williams and his network are learning that the hard way.
Williams has toiled in broadcast news for more than 30 years, climbing from a reporting slot in Pittsburg, KS to the anchor chair of NBC’s Nightly News. His work, covering disasters such as Hurricane Katrina and the Iraq War, has made him trusted, popular and rich.
The ascent of Williams has also elevated the fortunes of NBC Nightly News, which became the consistent front-runner in 2002.
Besides being the face of the most popular network news show (which earns him an estimated $10 million per year), Williams has become something of a popular media celebrity, regularly appearing on Jon Stewart’s The Daily Show, Saturday Night Live, 30 Rock, Sesame Street, and the late-night programs hosted by David Letterman, Jimmy Fallon, and Conan O’Brien.
A little fiction may cost him the fame, fortune and trust built over his long career. Williams recently confessed to making up a story about being in a helicopter that came under enemy fire during the 2003 invasion of Iraq.
Even if he somehow manages to keep his job and what comes with it, Williams has certainly lost something irreplaceable for a newsman — his credibility.
As is so often the case, the damage to the employee may also hurt the employer, both in advertising revenue and viewership. Williams has been suspended for six months, but his last news broadcast was soundly beaten in the ratings by ABC. Since the suspension, NBC’s news ratings have declined steadily. Also, social media metrics show an overwhelming negative trend toward the broadcaster, which is also reflected in stories, comments and mocking memes.
Neither Williams nor the network has made a good start at addressing the situation. His initial apology (“I made a mistake in recalling the events…”) only raised more questions. And NBC executives are being asked why they ignored or brushed aside repeated complaints about the story since it was aired 12 years ago.
What comes next remains to be seen, but the biggest roadblock to recovery is something Henry Ford likely understood. You can’t rebuild a reputation on what you’re planning to do, you must begin by directly dealing with what you have done.
By David Hawkins