It was a very tough week for journalism. The untimely deaths of CBS’s Bob Simon and The New York Times’ David Carr shocked their colleagues and followers, as did the announced departure of Jon Stewart from “The Daily Show”. While Stewart always insists he’s just a comedian, there’s no denying his profound influence on how we receive the news.
However, little dominated the headlines last week more than the six-month suspension of Brian Williams, anchor of NBC Nightly News, TV’s highest-rated news program. After it was found Williams fabricated stories about his experiences when covering the news, he was removed from the anchor chair. He apparently lied about being shot at while aboard a helicopter in Iraq, and may have made up his report about seeing a floating body in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina. Both events didn’t happen according to witnesses, and Williams apologized for his “conflated” tale.
The highly-respected and popular anchor is now suffering from the peril of spin. Yes, he was on a chopper in Iraq but it was a nearby chopper that received gunfire. Yes, he was in New Orleans after Katrina, but there was little-to-no flooding in the French Quarter. Other allegations of lies and spinning are being investigated by NBC, with some believing there’s more revelations ahead.
My good friend and seasoned PR practitioner Bert Cunningham wrote, “Brian Williams’ primary mission was to tell the news story, not be the news. Same holds true for public relations pros. They need to remember they are telling the stories of (their) brands. They must not become a story through unethical or questionable practices or expressions of personal opinion–via social media, for example–that reflect badly on themselves and those they represent.”
Under Armour CEO Kevin Plank said last week, “Trust is built in drops and lost in buckets.” Squandering trust through spin and deception can ruin friendships, marriages and careers. No individual, business or institution is exempt from truth. In news, in PR and in all walks of life, trust must be earned and maintained. Can Brian Williams ever get it back? Your thoughts?