Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Brian Williams's Conflict Of Interest

On Monday, Brian Williams reported a story about Army Staff Sgt. Salvatore Giunta--who is to be awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor by President Obama on Tuesday. Is he kidding us? Brian Williams serves on the Board of Directors of the Congressional Medal of Honor Foundation! This is a huge conflict of interest. When you serve on an organization's board of directors, your goal is to promote and protect that organization. And that is in direct conflict with the job of a network anchor and managing editor--to report the news in an objective and unbiased manner. Nightly News frequently reports on the U.S. military. And Brian himself often reports on Medal of Honor winners, as he did Monday. Nightly News's attitude towards the military can be described as reverential, idolatrous, even obsequious. Their stories often resemble recruiting ads for the Army, Navy, Marines or Air Force. Some stories are full blown propaganda pieces, replete with waving flags, soaring eagles, exploding fireworks--everything short of Uncle Sam and Kate Smith singing a duet of "God Bless America". To what extent is this a result of Brian's position on the MOH Foundation board? How can the NBC executives allow Brian to serve on the board of an organization that he reports on? Are we supposed to believe that Brian is completely objective and unbiased in his reporting? If a MOH winner robbed a liquor store or killed someone while driving drunk, would Brian report it? I doubt it. This is no different than if he served on the board of Pfizer, GlaxoSmithKline, General Mills or Chrysler. Since Nightly News often reports on those companies' products, it would be inappropriate for Brian to serve on any of those boards. And since Brian reports on MOH winners, he should not be allowed to serve on that organization's board, either. A news organization and its anchor must be free not only of conflicts of interest, but of even the appearance of any such conflict. Brian's MOH board membership does not pass the smell test. It leaves open the distinct possibility that his reporting (and the reporting of other NBC correspondents) is tainted by his allegiance to the MOH Foundation, and by extension, the entire U.S. military. NBC must insist that Brian Williams relinquish his position on the MOH board if he is to continue serving as the Nightly News anchor. That is the right thing to do.

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