We are now headed into the 3rd day of the Brian Williams fake helicopter crash controversy. As I predicted yesterday, Williams has received a great deal of mockery for his admitted fabrications.
While I thought his Wednesday night on-air apology was excellent, others have since poked holes in it. I still believe that Brain Williams will survive the crisis (with two big caveats), and will not be fired from his anchor position.
Let me say upfront, I really don’t have much of an opinion about Brian Williams, good or bad. To me, he has always seemed, well, generic, and I don’t mean that as a slight. So nothing I am saying is about trying to “help” him keep his career.
On day 3 of this incident, the chorus for Williams to be fired is still growing. I still believe he will not be fired.
Some of my readers have written in to express their view that Williams should be fired, but that he won’t because he is a part of a “liberal media” clique and they stick together and protect themselves.
Actually, the reason Williams job is (relatively) safe all comes down to conservative economic business principles.
- NBC Nightly news is #1 in the ratings. This generates hundreds of millions of dollars in ad revenues for NBC and its parent company.
- NBC just signed a new $10 million a year contract with Williams for the next 5 years.
- NBC has already invested a couple of hundred million dollars in salary and promotion in Williams over the last decade.
- There is no heir apparent to Williams for the prime anchor job.
- If Williams is fired, hundreds of millions of dollars could be lost in the next decade if bringing in a new anchor leads to the ratings slipping from #1 to second or third place.
So if Williams keeps his job, it is going to be about the conservative principle of protecting money, not liberal fraternity. (this is also how Rush Limbaugh gets to keep his job, regardless of drug or other crises that have hit him)
The next issue that has been brought up repeatedly is that the Williams case is similar to Dan Rather’s problems that got him fired from CBS. There is a big problem with this theory, however.
Rather went down because of suspect documents that would have destroyed the credibility of a conservative Republican President, George W. Bush. So there was a clear left/right political dimension to the controversy. While I am sure that somewhere along the line, Williams has done a story or two that displeased conservatives, there was nothing political in the “I was riding in a helicopter that got shot down” story that has partisan implications. Indeed, not only was Williams not critical of the military, he was highly praiseworthy in all of his descriptions of the military in these stories.
Finally, it’s been suggest to me that since Williams is a member of the so-called liberal media establishment, his fellow liberals in the media and political system will rally around him. The only problem with this theory is that I personally know a great number of liberals in the New York/Washington DC area, and I’ve never met a single one that considered Williams a liberal or a reporter who carried water for liberal policies or politicians.
However, there is two things that could still cost Williams his job.
- If ratings decline and advertising revenues decline, then Williams will be fired-quickly!
- If more fabrications are uncovered. Right now, everything Williams has ever said in any talk show appearance and every newscast is being examined by his enemies. If more fabrications or “conflating of events” (as Williams describes it) emerge, then yes, he is likely to be fired.
But if more instances of making serious stuff up aren’t uncovered, and ratings don’t go down, I predict Williams will be NBC’s news anchor for another 10 years.