But it won’t happen because Brian Williams is toast.
It’s not that others haven’t lied and then succeeded at second chances. Lots of famous people lie to their audiences, suffer temporary setbacks, and still come back to enjoy bigger and better public images.
Bill Clinton did it. His assertion that “I did not have sexual relations with that woman” turned out to be a lie. But today Clinton is one of the most beloved political statesmen in the world.
Bill’s wife Hilary Clinton did it too. She “misstated” claims of coming under sniper fire during a visit to Bosnia in the 1990s and had to admit that it wasn’t true after video footage showed the first lady walking calmly from her plane. But now Clinton is a former U.S. Senator and Secretary of State and the leading Democratic presidential candidate for 2016.
But Brian Williams is toast.
Here’s what Stars and Stripes reported Williams said: “The story actually started with a terrible moment a dozen years back during the invasion of Iraq when the helicopter we were traveling in was forced down after being hit by an RPG… Our traveling NBC News team was rescued, surrounded and kept alive by an armor mechanized platoon from the U.S. Army 3rd Infantry.” But The Washington Post added that, “Williams was not in the helicopter that was hit, but followed half an hour to an hour later on another helicopter that landed to avoid a sandstorm.”
According to The New York Times, “Mr. Williams said he had embellished an account of an incident in 2003; over the years he came to say that he was in a helicopter that was hit by enemy fire, an assertion he now says is not true. He now says he was in a trailing helicopter, and that he ‘conflated’ the two aircraft.”
Williams has tried to say he was sorry, albeit in clumsy, ham-fisted apologies that used tortuous words such as “conflated,” “misremembered,” and “the fog of memory.” But even Williams’ clumsy explanations are not the reason why he’s finished. After all, we’ve endured a litany of fat-tongued celebrities’ clumsy explanations as they grasp for redemption, from Jimmy Swaggart’s tears to Larry Craig’s “wide stance” to Paula Deen’s not understanding the N-word to Tammy Faye Bakker’s MascaraGate.
The key to Bill Clinton’s impeachment was not what he said when he covered up his marital misdeeds but that he broke the law when he lied to Congress under oath. And Hilary Clinton’s lie (a story coincidentally similar to William’s) hasn’t seemed to derail her ambitions very much either.
So why is Brian Williams toast when so many others have managed to skate around their “misrembering” to little bad effect? It’s simple: no one really cares when politicians lie because — sad but true — no one really expects politicians to be honest in the first place. But Brian Williams is toast because as a journalist he violated his core value, his defining ideal, and his authentic self when he lied to himself and to us.
In a violent year when over 60 journalists around the world have died trying to tell the true story, Williams tale of false bravado is seen as a betrayal of not just the NBC anchor’s audience but of all the brave men and women who really were in harm’s way. And there’s no way NBC Nightly News’ 9.3 million viewers will ever forgive that.
Understanding and marketing your authentic self is what today’s customers want and are willing to pay for. Violating that promise is an unpardonable infidelity. Brian Williams’ brand value was built around unflappable trust and he dishonored it. Trust takes years to build, seconds to break, and forever to repair.