Editorial: Williams’ fault creates distrust among viewers

We have mixed feelings about the latest news regarding NBC “Nightly News” anchor Brian Williams.

Yes, the vultures clearly have been circling above him. And make no mistake about it. His credibility has been damaged and as a result, so has the credibility of journalists everywhere, to some extent.

Still, we were somewhat surprised when we read the news Williams has been suspended for six months without pay. He had stepped away voluntarily from the anchor desk for a few days and it almost appeared as if he had weathered the storm.

For readers unaware of what’s going on, it appears as if Williams’ more recent recollection of events from his time in Iraq in 2003 have been less than truthful. According to CBS, Williams is quoted this week in Stars and Stripes newspaper as saying he falsely recounted a story that he was in a helicopter that was hit by ground fire in Iraq in 2003 in part because he was “scared” about the events that were unfolding around him.

Since the story broke some days ago, there have been suggestions that perhaps on other occasions Williams’ reporting, most notably his coverage in New Orleans in the days following Katrina, has been less than 100 percent truthful.

As might be expected, ratings for the popular anchor have dropped since the revelation. In fact, according to the New York Post, “preliminary Nielsen ratings show that ‘Nightly News’ lost 36 percent of its viewers in the key 25-to-54 demographic on Friday compared to its Monday to Thursday average last week.”

We believe, however, that many of those viewers will return. And here is why:

It may be possible that some viewers believe NBC’s news coverage is superior. We do not necessarily share that belief, but we will consider that possibility. But the primary reason we believe Williams still has his job, suspended though he is for six months, is because of his popularity. In other words, many viewers simply like Williams. They like his personality, his sense of humor, and the warmth that he exhibits on a much more regular basis, we believe, than the anchors on ABC and CBS.
The bottom line, however, is that those loyal viewers have been betrayed by Williams. They invited him into their homes five nights a week and Williams has violated that trust shown in him by the viewers.

Yes, Williams may be back on the air in six months. But regaining the trust of his viewers will take much longer than that.