Brian Williams Suspended: Layers of a Media Crisis for NBC & Williams

Brian-DailyBy Gerard Braud

Leave it to Jon Stewart to once again be the expert voice of reason in modern media. He clearly points out in this crisis that there is the “Brian Williams Anchorman” persona, and as I pointed out previously, the “Brian Williams Storyteller” persona at public events where he appears as a celebrity speaker or guest.

At question is the brand – credibility.

At stake is reputation – damaged.

At the heart of it – two layers. A crisis for Williams the journalist and a crisis for NBC, the corporation.

I think Williams did the right thing to apologize, as mentioned in my previous blog.

NBC, in imposing a six-month suspension without pay for Brian Williams, has created a scenario in which I do think Williams can recover. In other words, I would be surprised if he ever returns to the anchor desk at NBC Nightly News ever again. I would not be surprised to see Williams announce his resignation.

Crisis management requires finesse. A crisis response too little or too late is bad. A crisis response too large makes the crisis worse and creates a series of secondary crises.

Think of crisis management the way you might think of parenting – let the punishment fit the crime. If your child leaves their bike in the driveway behind the car, a proper response is to take away their bike. Taking away every toy they own would be too extreme.

The offenses by Williams appear to have been primarily in celebrity appearances. Hence, the proper vehicle for NBC would have been to prohibit the celebrity Brian Williams from making celebrity appearances. By making such an announcement, NBC could have focused on where the sins were committed, yet opened the door for redemption by putting Williams back on the air after his self-imposed one-week suspension. This announcement should have been combined with my previous suggestion that Williams appear on the Today Show Friday with some of the soldiers who called him out. Such an appearance would have put a punctuation mark on the crisis that defines its end.

NBC, by suspending Williams for six months will remove this story from the headlines quicker. However, the harsh penalty means that if they return Williams in six months, the story will regenerate.

My opinion is that NBC News went too far.

Likely, the only way Williams could return to the anchor desk is if the veterans who called him out for his errors rallied to his side to support him, asking NBC to return him to the air very soon. My crystal ball doesn’t see that happening, although I wish it would.

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