How Brian Williams Can Earn Back Our Trust - What Would Walter Cronkite Say?

To err is human. To admit and accept complete responsibility for it (in this day and age), divine.

Forget about the public and the current executives at NBC News. I was wondering what Brian Williams would need to do to earn back Walter Cronkite's trust.

Why Walter Cronkite? He represented a paragon of ethics and morality, and yet I don't think he was an unforgiving type. So I've asked myself what would Brian Williams need to do to satisfy Cronkite, because if his behavior was good enough of Walter, it would be good enough for me.

So if you'll grant me poetic license and latitude, this is how I think Walter might parse out Brian Williams' situation and share with us and him what he needs to do at this juncture.


When Williams lied to us about his past, it triggered Four H's in us:


When being a preeminent person representing the news as a supposedly trusted resource, Williams lying caused us to feel let down and Hurt because our emotional trust was betrayed.

We Hated him for taking away a trust we felt we could have in his position especially because there seem fewer and fewer people anywhere that we can trust (I'm guessing Walter might agree with that). Trust is possibly the most important element for feeling safe and secure which is again something very special in a world where being able to feel those feelings is rare.

What compounds the problem is now wondering what else he lied to us about and all of that adds up to causing us to be Hesitant to Trust him again and risk being hurt and betrayed again.

Finally, we are going to Hold onto Resentment which often takes the form of a grudge. Except for "dyed in the wool" grudge holders, most people do not particularly like holding onto grudges because doing so poisons your spirit and saps your optimism and vitality. Therefore non-grudge holders would like to find a way to forgive if they could.

What follows is that way:



The corrective responses to the Four H's are the Four R's: Remorse, Restitution, Rehabilitation and Request for Forgiveness. These are the steps that Brian Williams will need to take.

In order to heal the Hurt, we need to see and feel his genuine Remorse. This means looking all of us (viewer, studio, family, friends... and my ghost) straight in the eye, seeing the damage he's done, having us see that he sees it and telling us that he knows what his action did to us.

He can communicate this by saying to us: "When I lied to you, you felt let down, betrayed and hurt. And it's going to take somewhere between a long time and never before you will trust me again, because of how disillusioned or at least deeply disappointed you felt because of what I did. Isn't that true?" After we agree, he needs to follow up by saying to us: "I was wrong and I'm sorry for what I did."

His "I'm sorry" must be simple and clear and not followed by excuses or "but everyone yadda, yadda, yadda ..." This is possibly the most difficult thing for a self-centered person to do (President Clinton wasn't able to get closer to this than finally saying after too long delay, "It was wrong."). This may also be why victims of people that have traumatized them are often asked whether the perpetrator ever apologized directly to them.

As much as those of us affected need remorse in order to heal our Hurt, our Hate will need some additional form of payback in order to be satisfied. Payback or Restitution will start when Williams provides a forum for us to verbally vent our outrage, revulsion, disgust, disappointment directly at him for the hurt and pain and embarrassment to our profession he caused. We will need to verbally "punch ourselves out" and feel completely drained of all the negative feelings Williams' betrayal caused in us. This is the hard part for him.

However this outpouring of emotion will help calm and quell our need for revenge. With the anger expressed, we will now be open to a discussion of a tangible payback. This Restitution will need to replace the chunk of us they feel Williams took away through lying.

Even with Restitution, most of us will remain Hesitant to Trust Williams especially since it appears to have been a pattern. Most of us believe a lying tiger cannot and will not change its stripes. This is human nature.

However it is also our human nature to forgive people once they have earned it. To overcome our Hesitation to Trust, we must witness Williams actively Rehabilitating himself. He needs to prove he is sincere through action. He needs to learn and then how to deal with all the forces, pressures and temptations without resorting to lying. Whatever actions he takes must appear sound (seem rational), feel right (sit right), and seem doable (realistic) to us for us to buy into them. Integrity, a virtuous attitude, consistency and delivered intent build character and in time may overcome the wariness of those of us he hurt, injured and deeply disappointed.

Williams must impress upon us with his words, gestures and most importantly a new and improved way of handling temptation rather than resorting to short cuts and trappings of deceit. He must also communicate a satisfaction in developing these news ways of dealing with matters, otherwise his intent will seem disingenuous and that he is only do what is asked to get people off his back.

Delivering the 3 R's of Remorse, Restitution and Rehabilitation may overcome the Hurt, Hate and Hesitation to Trust, but may not prevent some people from Holding onto Resentment.

If that's the case, Williams will need to exercise the 4th R which is to Request Forgiveness. He can make this request only after he has demonstrated a track record of Remorse, Restitution and Rehabilitation for at least six months (and perhaps even as long as the length of the transgression which in his case would years). Forgiveness, like trust is something that must be earned.

One hopeful point to keep in mind: If Williams demonstrates a solid track record of Remorse, Restitution and Rehabilitation, and then Requests Forgiveness and he is not forgiven, it is not Williams that is unforgivable. It is that some people by nature are unforgiving. Williams cannot control those people's feelings.

In closing it may be helpful to remember:

A skeptic is someone who is reluctant to trust; a cynic is someone who refuses to trust. A skeptic is someone who was once let down and/or disappointed; a cynic is someone who was once betrayed and/or devastated. However, inside all skeptics and even many cynics is a deep ache to believe and trust again, but to do so without the fear of being let down, disappointed, betrayed and/or devastated again.

Translated... Mr. Williams, you may somehow get a second chance after this, but it is your last chance.

Good luck.