Markkula Center for Applied Ethics - Better Choices

All About Ethics Blog

What to Make of Brian Williams

 Oh, Brian Williams.  The Ethics Center's Emerging Issues Group spent part of our weekly meeting trying to figure what could have been on the news anchor's mind when--more than once--he the story of how an aircraft he was traveling in came under fire during the Iraq War.  It didn't, as any number of the people on board his plane and the one that actually did get shot could easily attest.

Was it a case of misremembering?  Many recent studies have shown how poor humans perform as eye witnesses.  Dramatic and traumatic events are especially prone to ex post facto embroidery.  Perhaps that's what happened to Williams, and this incident is an opportunity to deliver a lesson to TV audiences about the unreliability of memory.

Or was Williams, a noted raconteur, embelishing to buff up his "brand," as Mary McNamara argues in today's LA Times?    "Modern journalism is beset by many challenges, logistical and fundamental," she writes, "but none are as potentially dangerous as its growing cultivation of and reliance on personal brand."  Williams, she suggests, was more interested in being a personality than being a reporter.

Whichever way you read the situation, do Williams' actions constitute a firing offense?  Is it so important for us to be able to trust a reporter's truthfulness that any lapse is disqualifying?  Or did Williams, like many of the rest of us, do something wrong for which he should simply apologize and then move on?

Our purpose at our Emerging Issues Group meetings is not to come to a conclusion on an issue, but to explore the ethical issues.  What's your take?


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