Margaret Eby
February 11, 2015 1:32 pm

Newsman and television anchor Brian Williams has himself been a news item for the past week. Yesterday all that hubbub came to a head when, NBC News announced that they had suspended Williams for six months, effective immediately, without pay.

So let’s break down what happened to the nationally beloved anchorman. Basically, it was a scandal involving his account of being on a Chinook helicopter in Iraq that was, let’s say, less than accurate. Last Wednesday, the military publication Stars and Stripes took a hard look at a story, one which Williams had often repeated (both on and off air), that he was aboard a helicopter that had been hit by RPG fire in 2003. Here’s the original report:

Crew members on the Chinook aircraft came forward to say that Williams was not on the aircraft that took fire; in fact, he arrived on the scene an hour later after the Chinook made an emergency landing.

The reason this got stirred up again was because Williams again repeated the story on air earlier this month and the story was attacked by flight engineer Lance Reynolds via Facebook. Reynolds wrote in response to Williams’ re-telling, “Sorry dude, I don’t remember you being on my aircraft. I do remember you walking up about an hour after we had landed to ask me what had happened,”

In response, Williams retracted the story, and apologized on-air, on Facebook, and to the newspaper. “I would not have chosen to make this mistake,” Williams told Stars and Stripes. “I don’t know what screwed up in my mind that caused me to conflate one aircraft with another . . . No, we never came under direct enemy fire to the aircraft.”

But the damage was done. A journalist cannot exaggerate. NBC News launched an internal investigation, headed up by producer Richard Esposito, into figuring out the facts in the matter.

Then, yesterday, the verdict was handed down:

“As I’m sure you understand, this was a very hard decision,” NBC News President Deborah Turness wrote in a memo to staff members. “Certainly there will be those who disagree. But we believe this suspension is the appropriate and proportionate action.”

It’s certainly a huge blow to Williams’ reputation as a newsman. But some think that the network didn’t go far enough. “It’s basically a slap on the wrist. If you or I had done this, we’d have been fired immediately,” Mark Feldstein, a broadcast journalism professor at the University of Maryland, told USA Today. “He’s a franchise with a following, and I think that is a lot more important to corporate executives than mere sentimentality. I think they’re trying to preserve the Williams brand that they’ve invested millions in.”

And there you have it.

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