Brian Williams’ inability to recall and truthfully report the events concerning his helicopter coming under fire in Iraq single-handedly calls into question the lack of journalistic integrity among today’s American journalists and taints the entire field of journalism.
While numerous instances of reporting fallacies, including the unraveling of the Rolling Stones UVA rape story, have recently flooded social media timelines and dominated newscasts, none delivers a stronger punch to the gut than when the poster boy of American journalism is found to be no more than a highly paid liar.
In 2014, a Gallup poll showed Americans’ trust in mass media and their ability to report accurately and fairly had hit an all-time low of 40 percent. American viewers have clearly grown weary with the sensationalism and gotcha-style of reporting many media outlets have turned to in an attempt to boost ratings and grow their viewership; and with the growing trend of being misled, who can blame them?
Walter Cronkite, long-time anchor of the “CBS Evening News”, became known as ‘the most trusted man in America’ by carefully delivering precise information to his tens of millions of viewers. Whether it was his coverage of World War II or the assassination of President John F. Kennedy, Cronkite’s viewers relied on him to deliver an accurate account of significant events. If alive today, Mr. Cronkite would without a doubt be mortified to see how far American journalism has fallen.
Because of this fall from grace, it is vital to train up a new generation of journalists that will hold themselves to a higher standard. Since 1977, the National Journalism Center has trained responsible journalists and places an emphasis on the importance of balanced and ethical reporting. When polled, its students overwhelmingly said the events surrounding Brian Williams’ inaccurate reporting would make it increasingly difficult for them, and journalists across the board, to be viewed as a credible and reliable source of information.
As the Society of Professional Journalists’ Code of Ethics states: “…public enlightenment is the forerunner of justice and the foundation of democracy. Ethical journalism strives to ensure the free exchange of information that is accurate, fair and thorough. An ethical journalist acts with integrity.”
NBC News now has the obligation to restore hope in the Fourth Estate and to demonstrate to their viewers they care more about the vital pillars of journalism than ratings. The 7.7 million viewers of “NBC Nightly News” deserve to know the network will not stand behind inaccuracies and unethical reporting.
Mr. Williams, great power was placed in your hands and aspiring journalists everywhere looked to you for guidance. You were counted on and trusted to deliver accurate information to the American public. You now have the responsibility to gracefully bow out and protect what small glimmer of journalistic integrity remains.
With great power comes great responsibility.