Like so many people in the here and now, I no longer watch a network newscast. I grew up with the likes of Walter Cronkite, John Chancellor, and Harry Reasoner as news anchors. It seemed for a long spell in the 1980s, 1990s, and into the new millennium that network news meant Dan Rather, Tom Brokaw, Peter Jennings, and nobody else. Whether it was real or imaginary, these network news anchors of the past had a certain gravitas that is sorely lacking now.
My oldest memory vis-à-vis the network news is watching the Huntley-Brinkley Report in my grandmother’s living room. She lived only a flight of stairs away, directly below me, and had a color television set when most people still had black-and-white TVs. It took a while to warm up, and you actually had to get up from the chair or sofa to change channels, which then amounted to about a dozen in total, but it was colorful indeed.
My brothers and I would “go downstairs” every night to watch television and especially enjoy whatever was presented in “living color,” It was a familiar and comforting ritual and I recall, on occasion, gearing up for an evening of prime-time TV watching while NBC’s Huntley-Brinkley Report neared its conclusion. Of course, the Chet Huntley-David Brinkley sign off had not only taken on a life of its own but become the stuff of legend: “Good night, Chet…Good night, David…and Goodnight from NBC News.” Huntley was stationed in New York and Brinkley, in Washington, D.C., and rarely saw one another in the flesh. They weren’t best buddies, either.
As a little boy, Huntley, Brinkley, et al—and the news they reported—seemed so much larger and so far, far removed from me. Of course, when I was six years old, the summer of 1968 meant playing with a spaldeen by day and catching lightning bugs by night. Can’t say I gave much thought to the Vietnam War, political assassinations, and rioting in streets, even when reported by Cronkite, Huntley, and Brinkley.
Times have certainly changed. For starters, I’m not six years old anymore. The network news and its anchors no longer mesmerize me. In fact, I rarely watched Brian Williams on his show. I probably saw more of him giving interviews to others. It boggles my mind that I guy in his position could tell such an overt lie to bolster his image as an intrepid reporter who is ever willing to put himself in harm’s way and, of course, to inflate the ratings of NBC Nightly News in what is now a dog-eat-dog business.
To disseminate such a tall tale—when so many people who were there knew it wasn’t true—doesn’t seem like such a smart move, either. Sooner or later you are going to be ratted out. And I’m not one who enjoys seeing people’s careers go down the tube for a verbal faux pas or one mistake in judgment. I believe we should all be judged by the totality of what we’ve been and what we’ve done. Political correctness is running amok and more insidious than ever. However, considering Brian Williams’ anchor position, I don’t see how he could ever get past this big fib—and it might even be a pattern—to be trusted and believed again. But I’m sure Brian will land some other position in the news business where he won’t have to worry about coming down with dysentery. He might, though, have to take a cut in pay.