It would seem that the fall of Brian Williams is a tragic tale of style over substance. Ego and the temptation to embellish for talk show chit-chat won out over the simple truth.
And with really nothing to be gained by tales of RPGs and a floating body.
But everything to be lost. Especially trust.
As the Italian proverb goes: Deceit has short legs.
The debate will continue and then slow down, only to surface with gusto yet again since NBC News would want us to believe that it is seriously considering William's return after the reported six months "suspension without pay."
Therefore, pundits will have a second bite at the apple, another cardinal mistake in the world of credibility and reputation.
Time will tell. But countless Tweets, LinkedIn posts, talk shows and articles -- fueled by the speed and pervasiveness of social media in our digital world -- will argue this case on both sides, noting parallels to falsified resumes and other exaggerations designed to gain fame or favor.
I remember well when years ago Williams was the keynote speaker at an industry meeting of communications professionals. It was early in his NBC News career but clearly he was being positioned as a rising star. I was struck by what he did, not by what he said. When he stepped up to the podium, he seemed to take an especially long time to survey the audience, looking down on us. Even more notable, though, was that he kept twirling his pen, over and under his thumb and the first two fingers of his hand. Even then, it seemed to me that this was a pose. An affectation. Perhaps someone told him that the combination of a long pause and purposely drawing attention to that pen -- the time-honored symbol of a reporter and excellence in thought -- would reinforce the perception of him as a serious news editor who might be pondering the choice of a particular word, the turn of a phrase or the importance of a story.
Woe is us. Where is Walter Cronkite now?
In the New York Times on July 25, 2009, Op-Ed columnist Frank Rich wrote about Walter Cronkite and the issue of trust:
That's why the past week's debate about whether there could ever again be a father-figure anchor with Cronkite's everyman looks and sonorous delivery is an escapist parlor game. What matters is content, not style. The real question is this: How many of those with similarly exalted perches in the news media today -- and those perches, however diminished, still do exist in the multichannel digital age -- will speak truth to power when the country is on the line?
I trusted Cronkite. Not just the serious voice, the credibility and his passion. Nor just the approach he took with the news.
As an Army helicopter pilot who would serve with the First Cavalry Division in Vietnam in 1969, I had listened to what he had said the year earlier in his on-air editorial:
" the only rational way out then will be to negotiate, not as victors, but as an honorable people who lived up to their pledge to defend democracy, and did the best they could."
While I had pledged to do what I believed my country asked of me, I also knew that Cronkite was a journalist who had the courage to do what he thought right ... to tell it like he saw it, not what he or anyone else wanted it to be.
That stance made Cronkite one of the most trusted men in America.
And Brian Williams?