Tuesday, February 17, 2015

My friend and colleague Peter Goldmark wrote a letter to Brian Williams published by the Huffington Post - worth a look. That prompted me to write my own:

Dear Brian,

When we were kids, most of us learned life by testing our parents and the world around us. The more mischievous or adventuresome, or both, knew instinctively where the boundaries were. Just as instinctively we pushed on those boundaries. 

A hand on a hot stove became an instant lesson. Playing hookie and claiming an interesting day at school escalated the boundary test if our lie had not been outed. When we were brought up short most of us got the message. The bad boys and girls kept trying bigger lies until the consequences became consequential.

Sound familiar? 

Many of my friends have asked what you likely ask yourself: Why?

We all do it don't we? 
We pad our parts. 
Doesn't every good story get better in the retelling.
A State University graduation becomes Harvard.
A dropout becomes a PhD.
Like the bespoke tailor who takes a little tuck here and a little tuck there to make the fit better. But as the waist expands and the body shape changes, so too do the clothes. The fit is no longer alterable, it is unrecognizable.


You have been successful by the worst standards. Smart, handsome, well educated, and well connected. Privileges all. These could have been your foundation. Instead you sabotaged yourself. You accepted the seduction of the medium that used the face and voice of Brian Williams to promote a false image.

Richard Salant, a man who knew and admired you early on saw the promise in Brian that he hoped would lead you into the Pantheon of values that Salant represented; standards set so high that Dick himself spent a lifetime reaching higher and higher. His journey created CBS News, the best broadcast news organization in network television. From Walter Cronkite, the most trusted man in America, to the beginners on the overnight assignment desk, one standard prevailed: get it right.

Brian, you got it wrong. 

The early success you enjoyed kept you from climbing the mountain of experience where each step gets more difficult than the preceding step. You accepted and enjoyed the premature fame, the fortune, the accolades, and the support that goes with being an false image. 

The good news is you recognized the fact that your career had been built from the top down. 
You are smart enough to be insecure. 
The bad news is you chose the easy path to deal with your insecurity.

Instead of learning to paint, you borrowed a masterpiece and claimed it as your own. Instead of studying and practicing, you borrowed the late quartets of Beethoven and his Missa Solemnis and claimed them as your own.   

Your recent lies deny you the privilege of innocence until proven guilty.
Quite the opposite. 

Everything you claim is now open to doubt. Your golden youth; your career trajectory; your admirers and fans are scattered in the aftermath of  your lies.

There is a path to redemption. You need the cooperation of your employer. Here is what you tell your employer and write to your former colleagues:

Memo to NBC and everyone at NBC News.

I screwed up. I made a mess of a news organization, friends, and family that have given me every opportunity to succeed, and I blew it all away.

No apology can offset what I have done. Nevertheless I apologize.

I ask for the opportunity for redemption. 
If NBC News will keep me, I want to start my journey again where it should have begun. 

I want a job as a reporter. A beginning reporter. Anywhere, doing anything, at a beginner's salary. I want to learn my craft and the values that I must meet. 
If NBC News will not have me, I promise you I will find a news organization somewhere that will give me a chance to work and learn. 

A year, or years from now, judge me. 

I have shamed myself and brought shame and dishonor to all of you who represent the best of a craft that demands so much more than I have given it. 

(Brian: A story goes with the redemption aspect of my suggestion.

Dick Salant, a corporate lawyer who worked to heights of fame and fortune in the world of politics and business came to CBS News when his mentor Frank Stanton recognized that the collection of 400 skilled news professionals needed unique leadership to achieve their promise.
The announcement of Dick's succession produced the predictably infantile reaction from us: "Oh shit, a corporate lawyer; we are doomed".
Dick knew the challenge and he knew he was the odd man out choice. Within a year we all knew better. The crusade had its leader. The army had its Commander in Chief. The team had its leader.

But that's not the end of the tale as it applies to you Brian.

A couple of years later Dicvk announced to a still growing news organization that he had hired a new correspondent. Mike Wallace.
"Mike Wallace, oh shit, now he's gone off the rails; we're going Hollywood and its all over."
What we did not know was that Dick was gambling. He had an instinct. He needed an experienced broadcaster with a name in an attempt to rescue the ever-to-be-rescued CBS Morning News.  Dick gambled that there was more to Mike who had said to him: "I have done many things in my life, but if you give me this opportunity it will fulfill a lifelong dream for me; the dream of being a CBS News correspondent."
Dick introduced Mike to a room full of the most skeptical audience Mike ever faced. Everyone who could fit squeezed into that NY newsroom. We all brought along our ten foot poles. 
Mike's message was simple:
"I know what everyone of you is thinking. You think this man has lost his mind. All I can tell you is this: 'I have the job I have wanted all my life'. I ask all of you for one thing: 'Give me six months. If you feel I have not earned my right to be here among you, I will voluntarily leave.' 
That's where you are Brian. We are all holding ten foot poles.
I wish you the outcome of what your former admirer Richard Salant and Mike Wallace accomplished:
Salant was more than the longest serving CBS News President, he was George Washington, Abraham Lincoln and FDR all in one. He built and guided the most trusted news organization in broadcast history.
Mike's career proved his promise. 
And neither of them made any claim to being more than they were.