NBC Nightly News” anchor Brian Williams got the facts wrong about his flight into the Iraq war zone in 2003, then he got the apology wrong, says a Los Angeles Times editorial. With more of his public statements attracting media scrutiny, he has stepped aside as anchor temporarily while NBC investigates. His travails are the latest illustration of the perils of celebrity journalism, in which the story takes a back seat to the person telling it. Williams’ stature as the country’s most-watched journalist means that his plunge in believability harms not only himself, but potentially all serious journalists who rely on the trust of their audiences.
Williams’ troubles reflect the lamentable but common practice of chasing ratings by framing news readers as star journalists. His initial account of the Iraq incident amped up the drama, the sort of tonal enhancement that’s proliferating as the competition among news outlets intensifies. Over time, the dramatization morphed into an outright fabrication: Williams’ claim that his helicopter was hit by a rocket-propelled grenade. Williams is hardly the first famous person or journalist to aggrandize his role in important events. But as a journalist, he should have valued his integrity over his image.