Brian Williams speaks out

KJ here. I don’t watch television in “real time.” Call me a spoiled child of TiVo, or consider my blood pressure problems. But, after seeing him on Jon Stewart’s The Daily Show a few months back, I’ve been cautiously waiting to see what Brian Williams would make of his opportunity as anchor of one of the “big three” networks. He was on The Daily Show a few nights ago, and his controlled passion about what he witnessed in New Orleans impressed me.

After reading this article today, I am more and more hopeful that another person has seemingly made the decision to rise to the challenge of our times. That is, speaking truth to power.

From The New York Daily News gossip pages:
NBC Anchor Says Reporters Feisty Again
By DAVID BAUDER, AP Television Writer

NEW YORK (AP) — NBC’s Brian Williams says the lasting legacy of Hurricane Katrina for journalists may be the end of an unusual four-year period of deference to people in power.

There were so many angry, even incredulous, questions put to Bush administration officials about the response to Katrina that the Salon Web site compiled a “Reporters Gone Wild” video clip. Tim Russert, Anderson Cooper, Ted Koppel and Shepard Smith were among the stars.

The mute button seemingly in place since the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks has been turned off.

“By dint of the fact that our country was hit we’ve offered a preponderance of the benefit of the doubt over the past couple of years,” the “Nightly News” anchorman said. “Perhaps we’ve taken something off our fastball and perhaps this is the story that brings a healthy amount of cynicism back to a news media known for it.”

Williams spent much of the past two weeks in New Orleans, huddling in the Superdome with suffering residents and giving one of the first warnings on the “Today” show that the levees had been breached.

Hundreds of reporters, in all media, did heroic work on the Gulf Coast in the deadly storm’s aftermath. None arguably was as financially and symbolically important to his company as the job turned in by Williams.

It could solidify his spot as network news’ top anchor. He was NBC News’ point person at a time its rivals had none, since replacements haven’t been named for the late Peter Jennings at ABC News or Dan Rather at CBS.

“Nightly News” viewership the week after the storm jumped 2.5 million from the week before, its lead over second-place ABC increasing to 1.1 million from 300,000, according to Nielsen Media Research. A Williams-anchored “Dateline NBC” special about Katrina was the most-watched program all week.

When ABC and CBS settle on succession plans, they’ll be playing catch-up.

Williams increased the value of his stock by aggressively seizing an opportunity, said Jeff Alan, author of “Anchoring America: The Changing Face of Network News.”

“Brian handled this as professionally as any of the reporters down there and maybe more so,” Alan said. “Brian knew how much was at stake here. Brian took his anchor hat off and put his human being hat on in a lot of the broadcasts that I saw.”

Williams said he’s focused on a story that will preoccupy the country for many months and probably play a key role in deciding the nation’s next president.

“I have not seen an inch of my own coverage,” he said. “I have very little sense of it and I’m probably the last judge of my own work. I tried to call them as I saw them. And if I let my emotion or anger get the better of me, what some would have called a failing of a journalist I think should be taken the other way around on this story.”

Pointed criticism of the government response has been posted on his daily Web log, particularly on Labor Day when he wrote about food and water being dropped to survivors: “There was water, there was food, and there were choppers to drop both. Why no one was able to combine them in an air drop is a cruel and criminal mystery of this dark chapter in our recent history. The words `failure of imagination’ come to mind.”

His blog also reprinted in full a National Weather Service bulletin from the morning before the storm struck that gave a prescient road map to the destruction, including power outages and water shortages that “will make human suffering incredible by modern standards.”

Williams said he sensed trouble brewing already that Sunday, Aug. 28. At the Superdome, he saw National Guardsman barking orders at people seeking shelter, and patting down small children and the elderly for weapons. The crowd was angry about being forced to stand in line in the rain even though there was a large overhang a few yards away, he said.

“I went back to my hotel to get a few hours of sleep before they sealed the Dome at 6 the next morning thinking, `This is not good,'” he said.

He was one of a few reporters stationed at the dome as it degenerated into a house of horrors, and used his cell phone to snap a picture of its damaged roof that was widely circulated on NBC and MSNBC.

“I can’t shake the belief that I got to know people who aren’t with us anymore,” he said.

One imaginative piece was produced simply by using a camcorder at the Baton Rouge airport on Labor Day when Williams and a crew returned, illustrating how the airport itself was filled with hundreds of compelling human stories.

About the only blemish on Williams’ record was NBC’s failure to lead its Aug. 30 “Nightly News” with the levees breaking in New Orleans, said Andrew Tyndall, a consultant who studies news content. NBC says that criticism is unfair, since the levee breaches were one of several angles Williams touched upon at the opening of that newscast.

Williams has had a hellish travelogue the past year, including Banda Aceh after the tsunami and a battleground in Mosul, Iraq, filled with the dead and dying. He never thought he’d see such suffering in his own country.

“I measure my words very carefully,” he said. “I guard my opinions very carefully. To me, this was life and death.

“I refuse to believe that anyone I met at the dome has lesser value than anybody in my family that I go home to. I don’t believe that about this country. I don’t want that to be the lesson in this. I was angry. People were going without and dying in the wealthiest country the world has ever known.”

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35 Responses to Brian Williams speaks out

  1. Marjorie G says:

    I hope he takes a legacy and his position seriously, enough to not cut this admin so much slack and use the noise machine lines. He has an opportunity to make a good first impression for fairness.

  2. Ben Mercadante says:

    I saw that show… Mr Williams seemed truly moved by his experience, and now his perspective has been impacted by the realities of this administrations poor governance. As you said, lets hope people like Brian Williams that are in a position to front truth to power do not buckle in the future, because now they they really know the truth.

  3. kj says:

    While interviewed by Jon Stewart, he said a similar line as the last one in the article above. That he refused to believe that the life of his daughter had greater value than the life of her counterpart in New Orleans. It was an extremely powerful statement… and, to me, showed his clear grasp of humanity. It’s people who see all the way down into the cracks that we need on air. I truly hope he retains his perspective and carries his responsibility with the grace he has shown so far.

  4. janet says:

    I also read the other day that he threw a fit when his crew was asked not to film a body or something. I thought this was a good sign that he wasn’t going to whitewash the Bushies.

  5. kj says:

    Janet, exactly. I may even tune into real time tv just to see how he continues. Although I think the article said he had a blog… ? hmmmm….

  6. Zionista says:

    I don’t believe it for a minute. Sorry.

    Why on earth would a comfortably deregulated news business ruin a good thing and suddenly grow a sense of public service?

    Leave it to a cynical shameless opportunist like Dick Morris to hold a firmer grip on reality than a talking head on the teevee….

    “Day after day after day, people will see a massive flow of federal aid to the hard-hit area. While the storm’s intensity and the catastrophe it caused concentrated into a few days the horrific experiences of the poor victims, the rebuilding process will take months and years. This process, likely to become a theme for Bush’s second term in the way 9/11 dominated his first one, will ultimately become a presidential strength.”

    “Vandalgate,” Enron, 9/11, Iraq (WMD), Valerie Plame…, if none of them alone or together were enough to change the hand-in-glove relationship between the media and the GOP, why should the wake of Katrina be any different?

    Let’s be real, folks, Brian Williams will get in step with the rest of the foreheads in teeveeland and resume the task of heaping praises on the White House and GOP leadership, and belittling the Democratic pary, and liberal values of public interest. It is simply not in their own narrow best interest to release control on the lines of communication, and none of this will change until “the airwaves” are once again accountable to the American people.

  7. kj says:

    Zionista, I am real. 🙂 And I can tell you this, the ONLY way I’ve managed to hold on to any sense of sanity over the decades is to not loss hope, even when everything pointed in that direction. So, I have hope today that Brian Williams will keep standing in his truth. If he doesn’t, that’s on Brian Williams.

  8. Zionista says:

    kj, please don’t invest all your hope in Brian Williams. He’s one anchor in one news department on one network among a conglomeration of narrow corporate interests. Conservatives in general, and the GOP in particular, are at war with the public sphere. Public lands, public airwaves, public welfare, public education — even the military is increasingly dependent upon private security contractors. And they are winning. The public interest will never be a priority among this nation’s leadership until we find a way to force it into the national conversation. I don’t know how to do it, but that’s why (among other things) I get into these odd little website conversations.

  9. kj says:

    Zionista, I assure you, I don’t and won’t “invest all my hope” in Brian Willliams. I have a *little* perspective.
    I also understand what continues to be at stake with the neoconartists in control of so much of my government, and their choke hold on the fourth estate.

    However, losing hope in people, even corporate media anchors, isn’t something I’m going to do. In other words, I have hope that the better angels of our natures will rise to the top, all without holding on to any expectations that they will.

    And if they don’t and we continue to falter as a nation, you’ll find me right there at the rope line, where I’ve always been.

    I had a wonderful mother, what can I say? She taught me by her own example.

  10. kj says:

    BTW, welcome to The Democratic Daily!

  11. Zionista says:

    Thanks for the welcome, kj. We’re all in this together.

  12. kj says:

    Zionista, we are. 🙂

    I read something not long ago, forget where, that even the word “public” doesn’t rate well with the, uh, public.

    I think you’ll find the group here to be quite knowledgeable about what’s going on around us, what the stakes are, and how much effort it will take to continue to try and make a dent in this massive juggernaunt called the Bush Family and their Court, the PAC NeoConArtists.

    All of us here are activists in our own way. We do what we can where we live, as well as here, to battle the creeping tide of gunk that has slid right over the public’s rights and welfare.

  13. Ginny in CO says:

    Yes, Welcome Zionista and anyone else who reads and wants to contribute.

    We are basically focused on:

    This is a period of history that demands involvement.

    Wasting time on what coulda shoulda woulda does not get done what needs to be done

    There is no perfect candidate and no perfect campaign..

    There are some extraordinary people out there, working hard to turn this around. We try to identify them and support them. John Kerry stands out among them to us.

    The more we talk, exchange ideas and knowledge, the closer we will come to the truth and what steps will be most effective in turning this around,

    And we all fight the cynicism, despair, fear, and anger of having watched, tried, tried harder, hoped, waited and still wait and try harder.

    Please, join us. We need your voices, experience, ideas, It adds to focusing the picture when we all paint pretty much the same one. And that is consensus.

  14. Donnie From Houma, LA says:

    “Thanks for the welcome, kj. We’re all in this together”

    More than you know Zionista.

  15. Zionista says:

    Whatever, Donnie from Houma…. Now what makes you so certain of how little I know?

  16. kj says:

    Zionista, good morning! 🙂

    Listen, as Ginny said so well above, this is not your normal blog site. Civil interaction is the hallmark here. One way to promote that is to begin by thinking the best intentions are behind everyone’s comments, and not a snark. I know, that’s unusual on the internet. But it’s not at all unusual here.

  17. kj says:

    Zionista, in other words, we give each other the benefit of the doubt. As Teresa said on another blog, we’re a pretty good group of caring souls around here. We don’t take anyone’s intellect for granted, in fact, we respect each other and the gifts we individually bring to this community.

    That respect is just part of what makes this an unusual site.

  18. Zionista says:

    With all due respect, kj, maybe Donnie has an answer to my question.

  19. Zionista Says: September 13th, 2005 at 11:00 am


    Donnie can certainly speak for himself, but he didn’t say “how little you know” – he said, “more than you” — which is a commonly used figure of speech meaning someone is agreeing with you.

  20. kj says:

    With all due respect Zionista, I also had an answer, actually two answers, to your question to Donnie. And, with all due respect, I have the right to answer any post I chose.

  21. Donnie From Houma, LA says:

    Zionista, I most certainly can speak for myself. My reply to you was in no way meant as an insult. What I tried to relay, was the fact that “we are all in this together” really does apply now. If you would take the time to look at my past post, I think you will find no further need to be so cynical.

  22. Zionista says:


    Thank you. I’m sorry that I misunderstood your expression, but words like “more than you know,” appearing in such an ambiguous context, rubbed me the wrong way. Thanks again for taking the time to explain.

  23. We’re all happy!


  24. KJ says:

    Donnie, if it seemed to you that I was speaking for you, I do apologize. Since there was a previous misunderstanding on this thread, and both you and Zionista are fairly new, I went into “explain” mode about the great amount of respect, and the benefit of doubt for other poster’s intentions, that has been created on this blog by the posters. That respect is the reason I’m here.

  25. Donnie From Houma, LA says:

    No insult taken KJ. Harmony is restored. 🙂 I must agree with Zionista and how I might have worded it in a better manner.

  26. KJ says:

    Donnie, great. As I said, respect, as well as benefit of the doubt for each other’s intentions behind our words, is the reason I’m here.

  27. Zionista says:

    We would do well to support candidates who support efforts like Hinchey’s and Watson’s. Enjoy….

    Democrats Move to Reregulate Media
    July 18, 2005

    Two liberal House members who recently have been critical of what they view as attempts by conservative Republicans to take over America’s mass media and public broadcasting have now introduced a sweeping bill that would reregulate radio and TV back to the days before the 1996 Telecommunications Act.

    The Media Ownership Reform Act of 2005 (MORA) is co-sponsored by Reps. Maurice Hinchey, D-N.Y. and Diane Watson, D-Calif. In a written announcement, MORA is described as legislation “that seeks to undo the massive consolidation of the media that has been ongoing for nearly 20 years.”

    The measure would restore the Fairness doctrine, reinstate a national cap on radio ownership and lower the number of radio stations a company can own in a local market. It also reinstates a 25% national television ownership cap and requires stations to submit regular public interest reports to the Federal Commnications Commission.

    Hinchey is the founder and chairman of the Future of American Media Caucus; Watson is a member.

  28. Zionista

    I will have to dig for it later, but I believe that Kerry – Lautenberg have a similar bill pending in the Senate. I’ll check for the info later, I remember posting about it a couple of months ago.

    I know Kerry is a big advocate of restoring the Fairness Doctrine and so am I!

  29. Donnie From Houma, LA says:

    OK I have a million dollar question. What would it take to get Pat Robertson mad at Bill O’Reilly? Maybe Ole’ Patsy would have Billy-Boy wacked!! I know, even before you fuss me for that, it was funny though.

  30. KJ says:

    Zionista, thanks for the information. I completely agree, I’m all for supporting candidates like Hinchey and Watson. It’s just another reason I’m so happy to support Kerry… he hasn’t stopped working for us.

    Donnie, I don’t even want to go there. LOL!

  31. Donnie From Houma, LA says:

    Pamela, get ready, I am about to send you part two of the guest blog. I have to go the store real quick, and then I will check it out and save it. Then you can have it. This one won’t be as fired up so to speak, but I feel it will make a mark.

  32. Zionista says:


    There was an anti-propaganda bill sponsored by Kennedy-Lautenberg last January. Is that the one?

  33. Zionista

    Here’s info on what I was thinking of –

    April 14: Senators John Kerry (D-Mass.) and Frank Lautenberg (D-N.J.) today introduced an amendment to require every prepackaged “video news release” paid for by the federal government at taxpayer expense to run a disclaimer.

    April 14: In response to a push by Senators John Kerry (D-Mass.), Frank Lautenberg (D-N.J.), Byron Dorgan (D-N.D.) and Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) to require every prepackaged “video news release” paid for by the federal government at taxpayer expense to run a disclaimer, Commerce Committee Chairman Ted Stevens (R-Alaska) today agreed to schedule a mark-up on the legislation.

    April 28: Today, Senators Frank R. Lautenberg (D-N.J.) and John F. Kerry (D-Mass.) introduced legislation to address “covert propaganda” produced by the government. The legislation would require all “prepackaged news stories,” or video news releases, produced by the Administration to contain a disclosure of the source of the material.

    May 12: The Truth in Broadcasting Act, authored by Senators John Kerry and Frank Lautenberg, will require all prepackaged news stories produced by a federal agency to clearly identify the United States government as the source of the story.

  34. Zionista says:

    Thanks Pamela.

  35. Zionista

    My pleasure!