Brian Williams has wrapped up his first year anchoring "NBC Nightly News," and he is presenting himself as this year's new face of the TV news kingdom. He's a knight on a white horse, raging against poverty and indifference, especially in the poorer sections of New Orleans after hurricane Katrina. He believes the issues of race, class, oil, war and the environment make Katrina the "monumental story of modern times."
The NBC anchor shared his thoughts with Howard Kurtz on CNN's "Reliable Sources." Kurtz asked the obvious question: Has Williams become a crusader? "I don't think so," said Williams. But wait, Kurtz pointed out, you signed off the other night in the Lower Ninth Ward of New Orleans saying, "This is a neighborhood that's been left to die." Kurtz suggested the anchor's message "is government is not doing enough," to which Williams responded, "I'll let others reach those kinds of sweeping conclusions."
Now what kind of conclusion is more sweeping than the assertion that a corner of the Crescent City has been "left to die"?
Kurtz noted conservatives have expressed outrage because attacking the federal response "was a way of bashing the Bush administration," but Williams disagreed. "This story to me is not about President George W. Bush as much as it is about human suffering, about what happened to our country."
In Williams' view, government is less trustworthy than reporters on the scene. "We were told one truth by government officials in some cases, and yet we were standing next to the truth. And so we spoke up about it. We were looking at the contrary view."
To Williams, the words "media" and "truth" are interchangeable: "few things (are) done any better in this country than media attention when it's focused."
Here's an example of that. On Sept. 2, this was Williams, selecting one anecdote to describe reaction to an early Bush visit: "One of the major radio stations still broadcasting chose not to broadcast his (Bush's) remarks, saying at one point, nothing he could say could ever help them deal with the dire situation unfolding live in the streets of New Orleans, where people were still dying during his visit."