Wednesday, February 11, 2015

The Sadness of Brian Williams' Fall

Brian Williams' fall from grace and his six-month suspension--likely to become permanent--as anchor for the NBC Nightly News, saddens me.

While I haven't seen more than brief clips of his evening news broadcast for years, I always respected his reporting.

It isn't his reporting that has gotten him into trouble though. It's his celebrity that's done it. Or more accurately, his reaction to it. Williams' "misremembering" and exaggerations weren't told on his news broadcasts. They were parts of tales he recounted on late night talk shows and in other such entertainment venues.

There's good reason for anchors of network news shows to make appearances on talk shows. It's good for the ratings. It makes the individual who is the face of the evening broadcast accessible and, "real" to the public.

But when you get onto the celebrity circuit, you're given a platform on which you can make a fool of yourself without anyone suggesting that you stop. (At least for awhile.)

And, it seems, celebrity is like a drug. The applause, the adulation, and the laughs can, if one isn't careful, leave a person craving for more. So, the stories become more outrageous. Or the behavior does. You get too comfortable in the spotlight. As U2 puts it: "Some things you shouldn't get too good at/Like smiling, crying, and celebrity."

Celebrity can be deadly when it comes to someone at a young age. Elvis and Michael Jackson were addicted to it with horrible results throughout their lives. Celebrity can kill people. Or make them insufferable. Or unemployable. Or presumptuous.

According to The New York Times, Williams approached NBC executives about taking over The Tonight Show from Jay Leno. That probably should have set off alarm bells at 30 Rockefeller Center. But when "the talent" does or says something goofy, you do what you can to protect the cash cow by gently rebuffing them and sending them on their way, as NBC execs apparently did.

That works until the celebrity goes one goofy too far. That's what has happened to Brian Williams.

It's sad. Williams has been, from all appearances, a good journalist for years. And while in this hypermediated age in which people get their news constantly from the Internet, the nightly news broadcasts aren't as important as they were in the age of Cronkite and Huntley & Brinkley, Brian Williams was deemed credible and watchable by more viewers than his competitors. He was seen as the best at what he did. But it wasn't enough for him, apparently.

Once a person tastes celebrity, it seems, it rarely is.

[This has been cross-posted at The Moderate Voice]

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