The Brian Williams Debacle & the Role Social Media Played

For NBC Nightly News anchor Brian Williams, these past two weeks are shaping up to be the demise of his decades long career in broadcast journalism. Commonly referred to as the “face” of NBC News, he has recently been suspended from his position as the Nightly News anchor and managing editor after it was discovered that his account of being in a helicopter that was shot down in Iraq was highly embellished. And by embellished I mean that it was pretty much entirely made up. However, if you haven’t heard about that by now, I am very concerned as to where you’re getting your news on a regular basis.

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Williams with veteran he claimed saved his life after their helicopter was ‘shot down by enemy fire’

While Williams’ credibility is now under investigation, and he slips into the shadows and out of the anchor chair for the next six months (maybe forever?) I can’t help but notice how his lie came to be uncovered is a result of technology and even digital disruption. Actually, there’s probably a good chance that if Facebook did not exist, Williams would have been reporting from his usual desk tonight.

The unraveling of his lie began when soldiers who were actually in the aircraft that was hit by enemy fire called him out on Nightly News’ very own Facebook fan page. Williams had attended a New York Rangers hockey game where he appeared with the soldier who had been his security while on his assignment in Iraq in 2003. The announcer at the game made a huge presentation featuring the two and stated that the veteran was with Williams when his helicopter was “hit and crippled by enemy fire.” Williams then went on to feature this appearance on the January 30th Nightly News broadcast and to post about the feature on the NBC Nightly News Facebook page. That’s when the Lance Reynolds, the flight engineer who was 100% really on the helicopter that was attacked, decided to put Williams in his place. I have attached the series of events as screenshots which detail the original video, the comments made by Reynolds, another soldier who stepped up, and Brian William’s apology via Facebook comment.

The original Facebook video posted about the feature and the exaggerated story

Screen Shot 2015-02-12 at 10.22.58 PM

Reynolds’ post calling out the lie

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Screen Shot 2015-02-12 at 10.24.08 PM A second soldier, Joseph Miller, backs up Reynolds’ claims

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Williams posts an apology to those who have caught his lie

So what I’m wondering now is whether or not something like this would have ever been caught without the help of social media. More than ever, the general public has the opportunity to voice their opinion and arguments to a gigantic audience thanks to websites like Facebook and Twitter. Without Facebook it would have been much easier for NBC or Williams to have silenced these claims if they were just being made by people complaining via letters or phone calls. Sure, these soldiers could have exposed him by taking their story and evidence to a competing network, but that would have definitely taken much longer. Reynolds posted his comment on January 31st and by February 10th it was announced that Williams had been suspended. Justice would have never been that swift had they gone to someone like ABC, CBS, CNN, etc. All would have had to do extensive research to prove the claims, and who knows, they might have even held on to the story until ratings sweeps.

In six months we will find out if both NBC and the American public value journalistic ethics and credibility. While I have respected Brian Williams for years, I will continue to tune into ABC World News with David Muir. Six months is a long time to be away from the news desk, and perhaps NBC is hoping that six months is also long enough for the public to decide that they don’t feel it’s that big of a deal anymore. Unfortunately for Brian Williams and NBC’s ratings, I deep down do not believe that he nor the network will be able to recover from this disaster and that when August rolls around they will not be able to pretend as if nothing ever happened.

In the meantime, hilarious ‘Lyin’ Williams’ memes will continue to circulate the Internet in hopes that we will #neverforget like Brian claims he did.

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