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