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Should Brian Williams have been fired?

Two recent surveys conducted by the public relations firm of Edelman and the polling firm of Rasmussen Reports place public trust in media at historic lows. Edelman’s most recent global Trust Barometer shows a continuing decline in trust, down from 53% a year ago to 51% in 2015. Rasmussen’s poll of Americans is just slightly better.

The Williams incident is certainly not NBC’s first scandal. In fact, just a few days prior, another NBC debacle was swept under the rug in Washington. And let’s not forget Don Imus, Trayvon Martin, George Zimmerman, Mitt Romney and Martin Bashir to name just a few in recent years.

Does NBC think that firing Brian Williams is going to reverse this escalating decline of consumer trust in the media? According to NBC News President Deborah Turness, they do. Apparently, Brian has “a responsibility to be truthful and uphold high standards,” while the rest of the organization gets a free “pass.” Turness has had her hands full since joining NBC in 2013. And  for those who may have forgotten who owns the company, it’s Comcast, under the direction of Brian Roberts, another organization with more than just an occasional “oops.” In fact, Frank Eliason, the original “Comcast Cares” guy recently wrote this article about his former employer. If your bill came addressed to “Dear A–Hole would your trust in Comcast increase or decrease?

Can anyone else identify the real culprit here? Call it a lie, an embellishment, a mistake or a conflation, what Brian Williams did was wrong. But should NBC have fired him? Considering Williams is just one mangled car in a bad train wreck, how much responsibility lies with his boss and his or her boss’s boss? After all, aren’t they at least as much to blame as Williams, if not more so?

NBC has a problem with its culture. In fact, the entire industry does. Yet, that goes unmentioned by the people who have the power to change it.  Deborah Turness certainly didn’t mention culture when she fired Williams. And until she, Brian Roberts the remainder of the “C Suite” and the Board of Directors acknowledge their untrustworthy culture and take responsibility for affecting change, the industry will continue to lose the public’s trust. That’s the way trust works.

Brian Williams is just a symptom of a much larger problem. What is stopping the executives at NBC and every other media outlet from taking responsibility and charting a course to fix this systemic disease? The downward spiral of public distrust in media need not continue. Will the industry use the Williams incident as a culture wake-up call, before the public turns its back on it for good? What do you think?

Barbara Brooks Kimmel is the Executive Director of Trust Across America-Trust Around the World whose mission is to help organizations build trust. She runs the world’s largest membership program for those interested in learning more, and is also the editor of the award winning TRUST INC. book series and the Executive Editor of TRUST! Magazine. In 2012 Barbara was named “One of 25 Women Changing the World” by Good Business International.

Our 2015 Poster, 52 Weeks of Activities to Increase Organizational Trust is available to those who would like to support our work by making a small donation.

Copyright 2015, Next Decade, Inc.


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