Ben DiPietro, The Wall Street Journal’s Risk & Compliance Journal, February 17, 2015
NBC News, anchorman Brian Williams and NBC parent company Comcast Corp. are the subject of this week’s crisis. Mr. Williams first removed himself from the network’s nightly newscast–and later was suspended without pay for six months–following his admission he may have “misremembered” whether a helicopter he was flying in during a reporting trip to Iraq was attacked by missile fire. The resulting criticism prompted the network to launch an internal investigation, still ongoing.
The experts were asked to evaluate both the statements of NBC and Mr. Williams. How effective was each in handling the crisis? Where did their statements fall short? What did they do well? What should they each do next?
Davia Temin, chief executive, Temin & Co.: “NBC/Comcast was swift and perfectly on-point in their crisis response to Williams’ admission of lying. [NBCUniversal Chief Executive] Stephen Burke’s comments were textbook, and the six-month suspension without pay and Williams’ name taken off the program have demonstrated that NBC shares the public’s sense of outrage. This is only mitigated by the possibility that they knew of the lie beforehand.
“Regardless, NBC hit pause, imposed significant censure and created time for a full investigation. If other excesses of truth are found, they can easily ice Williams permanently. NBC has acted well to protect its own name and begin to restore its now-challenged trustworthy reputation.
“Not so for Williams. First, he was forced into the admission–he did not volunteer it. Second, he appeared so involved in his own damage control that his apology seemed grudging, limited and insincere, given the unfolding facts. And in this video age, where all his versions of the story can be shown, along with his ‘apology,’ he appears even more calculating. He has not let his true remorse–if it exists and is distinct from being caught–show. It would help him to win back some trust if he could do so.
“But the real ‘conflation’ is of news and entertainment. And with this loss of purity comes a loss of trust. While Williams may have been seeking to be a Hemingway-like character–the subject/hero of his own stories–that has backfired on him. The only way to come back is to express a deeper, more honest remorse for the hubris that seems to have caused his breach of journalistic standards.”
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