“If you don’t mind, I wanted to ask you about fellow broadcaster Brian Williams, who’s been in the news for all the wrong reasons this week,” Jimmy Kimmel pressed Bill O’Reilly Monday night on his late-night television show. “What’s your take on this?”
“Well, number one I feel that anybody who is enjoying [the] destruction of this man, you gotta look at yourself here,” he replied. “And there’s a lot of people who seem to be real happy his career is going down a drain. That disturbs me.” He continued:
“If it’s just one time he’ll get by. But if it’s a pattern, [it’s] going to be hard for him to come back and be the main anchor on NBC.”
Indeed. But the problem is that Williams has been caught on numerous occasions embellishing and repeating a fictional story. The proof, as they say, is in the pudding. But the reason O’Reilly has empathy for him, it seems, is because he understands the “tendency” of journalists to inflate their own egos. It is much more interesting, of course, to hear journalists regaling audiences with tales of avoiding rocket fire and shrapnel in battle than flying through war zones unmolested. As O’Reilly is right to point out, Williams did not make up the story from the get-go; he initially reported what happened accurately. Over time, however, his own imagination got the best of him and landed him in the troubled waters he now finds himself navigating.
Still, I agree with O’Reilly that it’s a bit disturbing to hear how gleeful people can be that Williams’ reputation is now sullied, perhaps irrevocably. After all, he’s susceptible to all the same failings and errors in judgment as all of us. But big time journalists make the big bucks for a reason. They are trusted to be honest and forthright when discussing their journalist experiences in the field. When that trust is broken, viewers have a right to be angry.
The network should ultimately decide Williams’ fate. But viewers can make their opinions known by exercising their right to tune in -- or not tune in -- to other networks. One way or another, the message will get through.