Sunday, December 04, 2005

Brian Williams Stands For Something, An Anchor We Can All Admire

It was in the midst of an NBC telecast of a Notre Dame football game in 1995 that a young Brian Williams, on weekend duty, twice interrupted the play-by-play to tell of the shooting of Yitzak Rabin, then the Israeli prime minister.

First, it was simply news of the shooting. Rabin's condition was not known. A short time later, Williams came on and I'll always remember with what feeling he spoke. "Sad news," he began, and everyone knew without another word that the heroic Rabin had died, the victim of a foul assassin.

This image of feeling and compassion has remained characteristic of Williams, and I believe it is what has given him continued popularity as the number one anchor of the nightly news. He stands for something. He is emotional about things that count. He is not the negative newsman, always prone to simply whine away about all that's wrong without casting an occasional ray of sunshine or personal emotion on events.

The L.A. Times' Matea Gold had an upbeat piece about Williams last week. There was a Howard Kurtz interview with Williams on CNN this morning, which may have been a bit too negative. Kurtz kept asking Williams, was he worried about this and that? And Williams kept saying, no, he wasn't.

With all the coverage of Williams, on his first anniversary as Tom Brokaw's replacement on the NBC Nightly News, it's fairly clear, he's doing a good job, and he does indeed stand for something.

We see that in his devotion to the New Orleans story. Williams was in New Orleans with the displaced in the Metrodome on the night of hurricane Katrina, and he has repeatedly gone back, as he did last week, to point out the truth, that New Orleans is being sadly neglected by FEMA and leaders of the Bush Administration who have not kept their promises to set the city on the road to recovery, to stick with the victims of the hurricane regardless of the cost.

Williams has stuck by the victims. He does care, and he's done as good a job of showing it as anyone. He concentrates on the essential issues, but he has also displayed a poignantly emotional feel for the character of New Orleans as a city and the people who live there. On one of his broadcasts last week, he ended by stopping and showing some of the impromptu music being played these days on the downtown streets.

This morning, Kurtz asked Williams about reports first published in the L.A. Times that the U.S. military is paying the Iraqi press to print favorable stories about the Iraqi situation, and it was evident that Kurtz was expecting Williams to denounce the practice.

Williams, to his credit, wouldn't do so. In a war situation, he said, you had to expect that American officials would want to get their story out. It was nearly what Sen. John McCain said later this morning on Meet The Press: This is a war in which we are embattled against some of the greatest desperados of history. We have to do what is necessary to see our side represented. If paying newspapermen is the way the Iraqi press runs, we can't be shy about paying.

It's one of the things I appreciate most about Williams. Yes, he's a no nonsence television news anchor. But he's also a human being. He's also a loyal American who hopes we win the War On Terror, because he knows the consequences for our democracy if we don't win.

The L.A. Times media columnist Tim Rutten has been horrified by this paying for stories. He sees it as a threat to American democracy.

I frankly agree more with Williams and McCain. The stakes are high in Iraq. We have to do everything we can to win. And when have we not done such things in previous wars?

Williams is there every night on NBC. He's not flashy, but he does his job in a conscientious and sensitive way. May he long continue to do so.

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