After a decade long love affair, NBC and Brian Williams have decided to take a break. At least for the time being.
It seems like just yesterday, or at least in mid December, that NBC finalized a contract that would allow a decade long love affair to continue for years to come. Just a few weeks ago, the New York Daily News reported:
"The anchor of the 'NBC Nightly News, who earlier this month marked 10 years in that chair, told the Los Angeles Times Monday he has signed a 'long-term' deal to stay. Neither Williams nor NBC would confirm the length of the deal, but the Times reported it is 'at least' five years for more than $10 million a year. Under Williams, who took over a decade ago from Tom Brokaw, 'NBC Nightly News' has averaged slightly more than 9 million viewers a night this year. It has been the most-watched broadcast network evening newscast for 273 consecutive weeks."
Now, here in February, Brian Williams sent this sobering email declaring it was time for the partners to take a break:
"In the midst of a career spent covering and consuming news, it has become painfully apparent to me that I am presently too much a part of the news, due to my actions.
"As Managing Editor of NBC Nightly News, I have decided to take myself off of my daily broadcast for the next several days, and Lester Holt has kindly agreed to sit in for me to allow us to adequately deal with this issue. Upon my return, I will continue my career-long effort to be worthy of the trust of those who place their trust in us."
How did it go from such a mutually beneficial relationship between a network and its poster boy in a matter of weeks to its current heartbreak? It is because they both have their own secrets that have come back to haunt them and we all know that we are only as sick as our secrets.
Brian Williams' secret is that, for over a decade, he has been telling and retelling a story of a frightening event in which a helicopter that he was on was forced to land in Iraq because it was under attack. It was an amazing story, the kind that would be the subject of a major motion picture. Unfortunately, it has been proven to not be true. Compelling fiction, but not true. It appears that the man in the serious business of conveying the news cannot tell the truth. If that is not an occupational hazard for a journalist, what is?
NBC News has its own sick secrets too. As one can see in the timeline about Williams' story, there have been changes and inconsistencies all along. The network that spends over $10 million a year on its anchor, certainly would have done its homework and vetted the story, had to be concerned about how it changed, but still decided to extend the contract and raise his salary. NBC News appears to suffer from what mental health experts call "codependency," which is defined in Oxford Dictionaries as an "excessive emotional or psychological reliance on a partner, typically a partner who requires support due to an illness or addiction." NBC has to know they are dealing with a perennial liar, but they need the ratings and so they are willing to simply overlook the bad behavior and pay significant amounts of money for it . The behavior NBC is supporting is certainly among the worst for someone in the news business.
We hear stories all the time about domestic abuse, distracted drivers that kill others, and diseases that touch too many people. These stories lead to national discussions. Williams honestly admitted in his email that it has become "painfully apparent" that he is presently too much a part of the news. Maybe it is time for a national discussion on the proper role of those in the news and the networks that hire them.