An affair to (mis)remember: Poor crisis communication has made Brian Williams scandal worse
NBC news anchor Brian Williams has been under severe public scrutiny amid scandal involving his wavering credibility after reports stating that claims he made while reporting in Iraq are, in fact, false.
For years, Williams has been telling the story of an incident in 2003 during which he was flying in a helicopter that was forced down after being struck by a rocket-propelled grenade. After he brought the story up once again on air last week, however, crew members who had actually been on the helicopter that was hit came forward to debunk Williams’ claims once and for all. According to their accounts of the events in question, Williams was on a helicopter that actually made it to the site later on, not the helicopter that was forced down.
Facing an internal investigation by NBC, Williams announced that he would be stepping down for several days. However, this decision came after Williams first decided to verbalize his response to the scandal, a move that only escalated matters rather than quelling public outrage.
The problem was not that Williams made an effort to address the issue but that his efforts were seriously misguided. Williams stepped forward following the onset of the scandal and attributed his false account to “the fog of memory over 12 years” that caused him to mis-remember the reality of events that had transpired.
Had Williams’ response exhibited an appropriate level of contriteness for his actions, perhaps his efforts to assuage the situation may have been more successful. Blaming years of spreading a false story on an inability to accurately remember facts and events is hardly a judicious response, given the gravity of the scandal and its implications.
Being able to properly frame a timely and wise public response is crucial in any crisis. This was particularly true for Williams, given that his crisis was one of credibility, while he holds a position in an industry that is based on nothing if not credibility and truth.
As one of the nation’s premier news anchors, Williams’ credibility is more than a question of his character; it is a question of his qualifications and the legitimacy of his career at large. His attempt to resolve this crisis and defend his integrity by blaming his actions on a mistake of memory essentially belittles the situation, and the public has been quick to call him out on this.
As NBC and Williams attempt to pacify the crisis moving forward, Williams’ poorly handled communication in response to this scandal will force them to face two problems rather than the initial one: the crisis of Williams’ false account, and the crisis of his imprudent attempt to defend it.
Do you think Williams only made matters worse by responding to public scrutiny as he did? Share your thoughts below or tweet me @tamarahoumi