Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Life Of Brian

Brian Williams' rapidly fading reputation as a serious journalist should have been foreseen as far back as 2004, the year he became NBC's weeknightly news anchor, when he made a guest appearance on Jon Stewart's Comedy Central show.  After a couple of minutes of banter between the two, Stewart rhetorically asked if maybe Williams would be a better "Daily Show" host than he.
Williams' glib, witty conversational skills, which have served him well in delivering the news, have also been his Achilles heel.  He's parlayed them into a second career as an entertainer, having appeared on the sitcom "30 Rock" and having joined late-night hosts such as Stewart . . . and Jimmy Fallon, with whom he "slow-jammed" news stories as opposed to just giving us the news straight on his own program.  So it makes sense that he would confuse Brian Williams the showman with Brian Williams the reporter, talking about how his helicopter in Iraq came under fire when he was actually in a helicopter a couple of choppers behind the one that actually got hit, and also insisting that, in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans, he looked out a window from his hotel room in the French Quarter and saw a dead body floating by -face down - when the French Quarter turned out to have received little flooding.  His daughter Allison, an actress, is a cast member of HBO's "Girls" series, but it appears that it's Dad who has a problem confusing fantasy with real life.
Or maybe he has Wheat Field Syndrome, a psychological condition I identified and named in this blog post from May 2011.
Be that as it may, Williams, the longest-serving news anchor on any of the current Big Three nightly network news programs, has voluntarily stepped down from his job for the time being, with Lester Holt filling in for him.  His temporary absence might very well be permanent, as NBC will likely want to put this issue behind it for good.
This wouldn't solve the problem of commercial broadcast news, with its increasing emphasis of delivering headlines without analysis or substance, filled out with human interest stories that no human would be interested in.  The PBS Newshour remains the gold standard for broadcast news, though it may be slipping; title cards follow stories with trivia nominally relevant to the stories just seen, and Judy Woodruff and Gwen Ifill are beginning to engage in the kind of end-of-broadcast small talk commonly associated with local-news anchors.  All of this provides the best argument for developing public broadcasting into a BBC-style medium free of corporate funding and free also of the need for pledged donations from viewers like me.        

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