The Ethics Scandal Is No Longer About Brian Williams. It’s About NBC, And Journalism

"Uh, do you think we should say something to Brian?"

“Uh, do you think we should say something to Brian?”

Yesterday Brian Williams announced that he was removing himself temporarily as anchor of the NBC nightly news broadcast, as NBC revealed that it was conducting an independent investigation, which certainly sounds like eyewash to me (and others.) The ethics issue, however, has expanded rapidly to the point where Williams’ fate—and at this point, I think he’s doomed—is almost incidental to the larger broadcast and news media ethics issues involved.

Maureen Dowd and others have revealed that NBC executives had been well aware that Williams was, to put it kindly in Dowd’s terms, “inflating his resume” and yet declined to stop it. In other words…

…they were aware he was lying to the public, which means that

…they were aware that he lies in public, which meant that

…their face, voice, anchor and head of their news division was a liar, indeed perhaps even a pathological liar, meaning that

…Williams was unquestionably  untrustworthy, and

…a constant risk to misinform the audience, and

…they still didn’t remove him because his ratings were good and he was making money for the company.

This means, does it not, that the National Broadcasting Network has proven that it no longer operates according to any journalism ethics principles at all. It recognizes no duty to inform the public objectively, factually and fairly. It will accept lying to the public for purposes of staff loyalty and greed. Suspicions that it will distort facts and manipulate news reports for other non-ethical considerations that must be subordinated to the journalism goal of truth and communication in an ethical news media organization are not only well-founded, but probably accurate.

This helps explain why NBC tolerates MSNBC’s massive conflicts of interest and partisan bias, as well as the irresponsible and unprofessional conduct of its on-air personalities. It also informs those who are objective enough to be so informed that merely dismissing one’s untrustworthy anchor when his problems with the truth can no longer be covered up will not cure a far deeper and festering cultural malady. How could anyone trust the news judgment of a media organization that behaves like NBC, with or without Williams? It is the Arthur Andersen of news organizations, and the analogy is accurate. An accounting firm that is shown to be corrupt and unreliable has no reason to exist. The same is true, or should be, of a news organization. The first ethical duty of journalism is truthfulness.

OK, now we know the truth about NBC.

Why should be believe that any other news organization is different?


Graphic: Deviant Art

28 thoughts on “The Ethics Scandal Is No Longer About Brian Williams. It’s About NBC, And Journalism

  1. I’ll tell you why, because there’s a “trustworthiness bell curve” in every industry (and in life). Industry is never destiny. It’s unfair to cast a dark net over an entire group. There are ethical journalists, but half are no more than average, and they ruin it for the rest.

    • Are you saying you DO think the others are better and or different?

      1. CNN hired Eliot Spitzer
      2. Fox has featured Dick Morris, Oliver North, and hired Mark Sanford
      3. CBS impeded Sheryl Atkinson’s investigation into Benghazi
      4. ABC News runs “The View”
      5. CNN wouldn’t discipline Carol Costello for cheering The fact that Bristol Palin claimed she was mugged.
      6. ABC allowed George Stephanopolis to interview Hillary Clinton
      7. ABC, NBC and CBS went a week without mentioning the Gruber tapes.
      8. NPR didn’t think Gwen Ifill writing a book based on the assumption that Obama would win the 2008 election disqualified her as a debate moderator.

      I think the bell curve is more like a flat line.

      What reason do we have to trust any of them?

    • I think it does say something about news organizations as a whole. Can you honestly say that there’s one out there right now that stands above its peers?

        • Other way round, I think. The sponsors flock to those with the most dramatic value — usually equal to highest ratings or most controversial or best success in predicting weather or sports, regardless of whether they are feeding correct, objective (given open bias) and/or thorough information. They may be news organizations but they are part of a entertainment medium and that’s where the so-called big money goes.

          • I tend to agree with Penn here. Despite their leftward tilt, I do suspect that, had NBC, MSNBC and CNN been first to pursue the Fox News entertainment model – I mean, before Fox “took off” – and pursued in spite of the Left’s own political correctness-inhibition that leads to scorning generally “advocacy with cheesecake,”* the relative viewership popularity now of Fox News vs. the others probably would be reversed. But, doing that, “getting there,” still might have posed insurmountable challenges for the anti-Foxen, because of the seemingly inevitable tendency of leftist propaganda camps to promote unattractive women (among those, I am including good-looking ones with eventual, if not immediate, off-putting delivery) – with possible exceptions of Rachel Maddow and Wendy Davis. For my jollies, I still try to catch Fox News when Kirsten Powers is on.
            *I did not forget the Obama Girl(s?)** **NOT referring to his daughters

  2. 1) Media/Newsprint, before the current era, never pretended to be unbiased sources of information. Before saying this is a #1 rationalization, I’m not saying it was right. But it needs to be noted as a foundation for

    2) Modern media, is clearly biased and definitively skews it’s reporting to advance or at a minimum skew perception in support of it’s favored world-view. So….

    3) There has probably NEVER been a time when the journalism industry has NOT been biased or essentially propaganda organizations. I strongly suspect the “ethical” high point of journalism occurred when journalism was COMPLETELY hijacked by one world-view and it LOOKED like they were unbiased by a lack of comparison.

    4) So, as nice sounding as their code of ethics is, it’s always been a farce.

    5) Which is why it is really useful that Freedom of the Press & Freedom of Speech, is with the other Faith-based Freedom— Religion. They are all ultimately related to each individual’s conception of “Truth”.

    • 4) so maybe the most ethical code we could expect from a journalist is for them to reveal their political leanings before reporting on anything… then forget the rest of that old code of ethics.

    • I think they once aspired to meeting the ethics tenets of journalism. I think Walter, Huntley and Brinkley, Murrow thought they were seeking truth and being straight. I think trust was sought and valued more. The news wasn’t commercialized so much, which meant there was real, substantive news. And as much as the media hated Nixon, in both 1968 and 1972 he was infinitely more fairly objectively covered than McCain or Romney, and no Democrat ever was pushed across the line like Obama.

      • I have to go with Texagg04 on this one, since he brought up the “one-world view” which is what obtained in the days of Murrow, and persisted to a certain extent with Brinkley and Walters (never could stand her smarmy delivery though). I would also go with Frank Reynolds, John Chancellor (extra points for Ken Burns’ Baseball, no?), Doug Edwards, and others I’ve forgotten who brought a balance to the news when that balance was something people expected. Maybe in spite of their biases, which makes their work – and that of their news organizations – even more commendable. And Harry Reasoner could out-interview Larry King any day with one lip tied behind his back.

        In fact, thanks for bringing to mind Don Hollenbeck whom I remember more as a radio journalist (than his association with Murrow) — he was the left-biased reporter who shocked everyone by criticizing the NYT godhead. I couldn’t remember his name, looked up “Dan Holland” but finally caught up with his identity — and the existence of a 2008 biography, now on my reading list, subtitled “An Honest Reporter in the Age of McCarthyism.” (His war-correspondent credentials appear rocksolid, by the way — he carried a wire recorder — as does his work heading up the first ever critical media-review program, CBS Views the Press.)

  3. Jack’s right. Williams should have been fired sometime last week. No explanation necessary. Put a new anchor in place. End of story. Can you imagine asking Chet Huntley what NBC should do without first ducking to avoid being hit by the ashtray or old-fashioned glass he’d hurl at you?

  4. “Eyewash?” You mean “whitewash?” Either way it’s the same thing, NBC is trying to distance itself from Brian Williams’ lies and make it look like it didn’t know the extent of what was going on. I agree he’s doomed, and rightly so, he belongs on the same junk heap as Mary Mapes.

    Pretty much everything you say is right on the money, Jack, but, ethically, I think that pointing out the problem and denouncing it is only one-half of the equation. About ten years ago the introduction to a new “rating the presidents” book (which I’m guessing you probably read) said something to the effect that scholars who objected to the leftward autopilot tilt of mainstream scholarship had to do more than just denounce it, they had to counter it with better scholarship, etc., since the quickest way to show a stick is crooked is to lay a straight stick next to it.

    So, where do we look for better journalism to support? The closest thing to objective journalism out there now is probably PBS’s News Hour, though in the post-McNeil/Lehrer era I think it has lost some of its gravitas and still does tilt one way or the other. I also think its time for the profession to start actually enforcing its own canons of ethics, same as the legal profession. Journalists might think twice about playing fast and loose with the facts to get a scoop or move political numbers if the penalty for doing so was a fine they could ill afford, a public rebuke, and a one-year suspension from journalistic activity, or more if they were “frequent fliers.”

    Freedom of the press, like any other freedom, isn’t absolute, and frankly, if it is abused, it is self-destructive. We’re not there yet, but if the news industry doesn’t put the brakes on soon, the last shred of credibility will be gone.

    • I think Fox News only exists because it is the only available anti-dote to the otherwise completely lefty-soaked media. If the rest of the media weren’t so lefty, there’d be no need for Fox. Equal and opposite reaction, etc. It’s simply physics.

      And freedom of the press is endangered when the government and it’s press enablers are marching in lock-step.

      • Because the Big Media sources are all ultimately tied to centralized political/monied interests…

        At least on the internet you have such a wide plethora of options, you can glean though and determine what seems to be the least “afflicted”.

        Decentralization / grassroots / independent… that’s the way to go in just about everything in life.

  5. I just get annoyed and feeling insulted and scammed, when I see that Williams is “stepping aside.” Always, if they’re leftists, they only “step aside.” Temporarily. They go and hide for awhile. But then they come back, with a vengeance. Like Jerry Brown in California. They never go away and stay away, like they ought to do. They’re just too right to be wrong, too special not to be in the limelight always, too smart not to be in control. I hate that.

    So, projections (mine only – Eeyore-flavored, of course): Williams won’t be “aside” for long. He’ll be back, in time for the 2016 election races. He’ll keep far from military, that is to say, combat, matters. He’ll wedge-in to yack about some other issue – might even take up some kind of cause for military veterans. That’s it: He’ll do his personal Rehab Tour. All will be forgotten, or, driven to be forgotten, with shaming for non-forgetters. Thus will there be another case study in how the left always gets its way, eventually, even if what it’s doing is wrong and wrong-headed – because for the Left, the ends always justify the means, and so the ends are always achieved, because the means are never limited by ethical considerations whenever achievement of the desired ends is the least bit threatened by limiting the means.

    • Brian Williams is not Dan Rather, he is not the network. He is headed for the same sad café where Mary Mapes is still muttering and bitching about how she was fired for telling the truth and Martin Bashir is still ranting about how someone should defecate in Sarah Palin’s mouth.

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