Brian Williams Cancels Letterman Appearance
It continues to be a scandalous week for Brian Williams.
The newscaster has canceled his upcoming appearance on Thursday night’s episode of Late Show With David Letterman. This comes in the wake of Williams admitting to having lied about a 2003 Iraq War story, an act which could end up costing the guy his career. If nothing else, it’s done huge damage to his credibility as a journalist, as he’s essentially gone from being one of the more trusted anchors in news to suddenly having other stories of his questioned. Hell, Williams is currently on leave from NBC Nightly News pending an investigation into other possibly false claims. Although Williams seems to believe he’ll only be gone from NBC Nightly News for “several days,” there’s no immediate timetable set for his return.
Arguably, what’s worse about all this is that his appearance on Late Show could have been a huge opportunity to set the record straight. Or, at the very least, do some measure of damage control.
According to Deadline, industry insiders believe Williams missed a great opportunity by canceling, noting that an apology on air would not only mitigate some of the damage to his public perception, it would also be beneficial to have Letterman be the one to help him through it. After all, he and Williams go way back, and it was actually on an episode of Late Show where Williams made his false claim about having been on a helicopter that took a rocket-propelled grenade in Iraq in 2003.
At the very least, Williams gave Letterman enough advance notice for the show to book Tom Hanks as a replacement guest. But this is still a pretty big loss for Late Show, since the episode was likely to do a huge rating on the anticipation of how Williams would address the controversy. I guess his first official statement will come later. Realistically, lying is among the worst things a journalist can do, considering that journalism is a profession that functions on a foundation of cold, hard truth. But many of Williams’s defenders feel there are worse things a journalist could have lied about than having taken missile fire in a war zone. However, for his detractors, it was a shameful, pointless lie that called his integrity as a journalist into question. If Williams lied about this, what else has he/might he lie about? It’s quickly become a divisive issue, as Williams is a generally well-liked celebrity, and this development has cast a shadow over him.
While NBC is attempting to ascertain the extent of Williams’s dishonesty in its investigation, it’s just as much of an investigation into the damage Williams has done to their brand, and whether they can afford to survive the potential backlash of keeping him on. For what it’s worth, I think if Williams wants to keep his job at NBC, a public apology in a forum like Late Show might have helped significantly. But now? I suppose we’ll never know.