If you’re looking to understand the power social media can now wield over traditional media, I’ve got two words for you: Brian Williams.
Or maybe 10 words: “Sorry dude, I don’t remember you being on my aircraft.” Lance Reynolds, a former Army flight engineer, left that comment late last month on a Facebook post featuring Williams, the popular anchor of “NBC Nightly News,” retelling a story about how a U.S. military helicopter he was on came under fire in Iraq in 2003. Then came the full story in Stars and Stripes, in which Williams admitted that he had exaggerated his experience to include a firefight on a different helicopter.
A week later, Williams was suspended for six months without pay by the NBC/Comcast brass. “On Friday, January 30, 2015, Brian misrepresented events which occurred while he was covering the Iraq War in 2003,” an NBC statement said. “It then became clear that on other occasions Brian had done the same. . . .This was wrong and completely inappropriate for someone in Brian’s position.”
And just like that Williams, one of the most recognizable journalists in the country, was gone. No interviews, no comments from NBC types. (For the record: I am a paid political analyst for MSNBC and NBC. No comment.)
No one really knows if Williams can make it back to the anchor chair that, as recently as a week ago, would have been impossible to imagine him not occupying in perpetuity. And it’s all because of a Facebook posting by someone no one had heard of before Wednesday.
Brian Williams, for becoming the defining example of the tremendous leveling power of social media, you had the worst week in Washington. Congrats, or something.
Each week, Chris Cillizza awards the worst week in Washington to an inhabitant of Planet Beltway who stands out for all the wrong reasons. You can check out previous winners or e-mail Cillizza with candidates. You can also read more from Outlook and follow our updates on Facebook and Twitter.