On NBC Nightly News, Brian Williams often reports stories about inappropriate action or speech directed at religious, ethnic and racial groups. He has already reported on Los Angeles Clippers' owner Donald Sterling's racist comments, and we can expect Brian to continue reporting this story in the coming weeks. Not only will he report it, but he will do so with outrage and derision. Because Brian Williams is a fair and just man with no biases or prejudices against any group. Or so he would have us believe. As we watch Brian report on Donald Sterling's comments, we should take a moment to remember some of Brian's own inappropriate comments.
On January 26, 2009, Brian wrote one of his Daily Nightly blog posts titled "Old man river at Obama's inauguration". (http://dailynightly.nbcnews.com/_news/2009/01/26/4373517-old-man-river-at-obamas-inauguration?lite.) (The blog's title referred to Capt. Chesley Sullenberger, who was a guest at President Obama's first inauguration.) A brief history lesson for Brian: The lyrics for the song "Old Man River" (also known as "Ol' Man River") were written by Oscar Hammerstein II for the 1927 play "Showboat". And although the song was later sanitized, the original lyrics were extremely racist and even included the vile "n" word to describe African Americans. It hardly seems appropriate for America's most trusted news anchor to reference a once-racist song title in a blog post about the inauguration of our nation's first African American president.
Later that year, speaking at the 2009 Nantucket Film Festival (as reported by the 6/22/09 bostonherald.com website [http://business.highbeam.com/3972/article-1G1-202214900/nbc-newsguy-steals-show-nantucket]), Brian told his audience, "Welcome to the Nantucket Film Festival--where Jews come to be honored. Nantucket is actually a Yiddish word meaning where the WASPS live." Isn't he hilarious? That Brian--such a badchen!
And on May 29, 2013, Brian reported an NBC Nightly News story about President Obama having lipstick on his collar during a public appearance. (Let's ignore the fact that this didn't remotely qualify as a news story and it didn't belong on a national newscast. Obviously, Brian Williams makes a living reporting frivolous stories with no news value.) During his introduction to the story, Brian said, "The President of the United States had a bit of splainin' to do last night...." The reference was familiar to "I Love Lucy" fans--Desi Arnaz's Ricky would often tell Lucille Ball's character that she had some "splainin'" to do. (Senator Tom Coburn had also used "splainin'" while questioning Sonia Sotomayor during Ms. Sotomayor's 2009 Senate confirmation hearing. Coburn's use of that word set off a firestorm of criticism that the word was insulting to Ms. Sotomayor's Latina heritage.) I don't think there's any question that this word is derogatory and insulting to Latinos and Latinas. It's no different than affecting an exaggerated Chinese or Italian accent to mock a person from China or Italy. It's surprising--not to mention disappointing--that Brian actually had the nerve to use this offensive word on a network newscast.
So as we watch Brian Williams reporting on Donald Sterling's racist remarks this week, let us not forget some of Brian's own words. Of course, his comments raise a larger question: If these are the types of things Brian is saying in public, what exactly is he saying in private?