A Misremembering Legacy on the NBC Nightly News Don’t “Conflate” Misdeeds with Honest Mistakes

By Tom Davidson

According to Mark Twain, “If you tell the truth, you don’t have to remember anything,” or as others put it, “You don’t have to keep track of your lies.” Telling the truth and admitting mistakes are the currency of leadership, and as we are witnessing this week, the currency of good news reporting as well.

On Wednesday, February 4th, 12 years after he first described a harrowing helicopter ride in Iraq with the United States Army; NBC News Anchor Brian Williams began a busy news cycle – on himself.

Williams’ has been telling a version of events while covering the Iraq War that put him squarely inside a Chinook helicopter that was hit by enemy fire, when in reality he was an hour behind the downed choppers, not even in the same flight as the ships involved.

The reporter’s varied versions of the story have been publicly recorded over the years, but he may have recounted them one too many times. The tipping point appears to have been a planned-impromptu tribute to one of the veterans involved it the story at a Rangers hockey game on Monday of last week. After that, the veterans who knew the truth were finally heard on social media, and Williams was forced to offer an explanation/apology on Wednesday night.

“I would not have chosen to make this mistake,” Williams said. “I don’t know what screwed up in my mind that caused me to conflate one aircraft with another,” he added. In a Facebook exchange with the Army veteran, William’s excuse rested on “the fog of memory,” mysteriously “conflating” the facts, and protesting that he was “not trying to steal anyone’s valor.”

If it can happen at this echelon of elite journalism, it can certainly happen at the level of the everyday leader. As will be seen, William’s reputation is irreparably damaged, and his ratings will suffer the consequences. Don’t let this happen to you.

  1. Tell the truth.
  2. Admit mistakes, and don’t confuse them with misdeeds.
  3. Apologize without deflecting blame.

It’s the nature of trust, and it’s the nature of leadership.

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