Brian Williams’ Stolen Valor

Audiences and readers are down, followed out the door by advertisers, trailed by revenues, which in turn kills jobs. That is the tale of newspapers, magazines, and television network news, but the one thing legacy media has that they lord over the new age of information purveyors is credibility and trust. You can hemorrhage all those other items, but when you bleed out credibility and trust, all that remains is an empty body.

The death watch, it seems, is on for NBC News anchor Brian Williams, who recanted a 12-year-old, oft-told story about riding in a helicopter in Iraq that was hit by enemy fire. Williams made a brief on-air apology Wednesday and also on his Facebook page but said nothing on-air Thursday night. Neither he nor his bosses at 30 Rockefeller Center are saying much else.

But that isn’t stopping everyone else’s tongues from wagging and speculation from building over the future of both the one-time war correspondent and the network that gave viewers decades of trusted news delivery with Huntley and Brinkley and Tom Brokaw. Brokaw, according to the New York Post’s gossipy Page Six column, wants Williams gone.

Before he took over the news desk, Williams was NBC’s glamour correspondent, showing up in all the world’s hot spots, the face of the network on the ground. In March 2003, he was in Iraq for the invasion and was in one of four Chinook helicopters that came under fire in the early days of the war. One of the helicopters was hit by a rocket-propelled grenade and, in the retelling of the story on Dateline, Williams gave the impression he was on board that chopper.

As the years went by, Williams’ recall of the event became more embellished and more detailed. NPR has aggregated a number of clips of Williams telling the story over the last decade, including an appearance on the David Letterman Show in 2013 with a vivid description for a rapt audience.

Last week, Williams brought one of the pilots to a hockey game in New York and showed the event to his viewers on a broadcast last Friday.

“The story actually started with a terrible moment a dozen years back during the invasion of Iraq when the helicopter we were traveling in was forced down after being hit by an RPG,” Williams told viewers. “Our traveling NBC News team was rescued, surrounded, and kept alive by an armor mechanized platoon from the US Army 3rd Infantry.”

Other servicemen who were there that day apparently couldn’t take it anymore and called Williams out on his tale on social media. Stars and Stripes also ran a lengthy expose and the story – the real one, that is – took off from there. The truth was another helicopter was hit while the one Williams was riding in arrived about an hour later.

While Williams and NBC may be maintaining radio silence, other media are pouncing on the episode. Other media are already combing through past Williams reports, such as his coverage of Hurricane Katrina when he said he saw bodies floating by in the French Quarter.

Some reports are raising incidents involving other public figures such as Hillary Clinton, Sen. Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut, and Ronald Reagan who have had to come clean after offering stories that ran counter to truth and reality. Some survived, some paid the price.

But there is a different standard for those in the media because it is their job to report in an honest and – here’s that word again – credible manner. If there are questions about the person behind the story, what force will the story have?

In addition to Williams’ position as the face of NBC News, he is also the program’s managing editor. It may be an honorary title but in the business, an M.E. is the second-in-command, often having more say over the day-to-day operations of a newsroom than the editor in chief. You think losing the confidence of an audience is bad, try losing your newsroom.

Williams and his bosses can play the “nothing to see here, move along,” card for a while, but his peers won’t let it go that easily. There is a feeling in the industry that a shadow over one can be a shadow over all, and to avoid being splashed with the mud, there will be no let-up on Williams for his transgression.

–JACK SULLIVAN

BEACON HILL

Gov. Charlie Baker is in no rush to hit the T revenue button, but gets a little pushback from a major business leader, CommonWealth reports. Baker insists a proposed $14 million cut to the MBTA included in his deficit-closing plan will not affect services.

Baker returns to Lawrence, this time with $1.2 million in state and federal road funds to rework what is allegedly the most dangerous street intersection in the city, the Eagle-Tribune reports.

Senate President Stan Rosenberg, who seems to be making himself available in the media more in his first month than his predecessor Therese Murray did in her nearly eight-year term, sits down with Greater Boston to discuss the state of the state.

The Globe profiles new Senate Ways and Means chair Karen Spilka, who brings a varied background as a social worker, labor lawyer, and arbitrator to her new post.

Some Republicans are not so wild about Charlie Baker’s reach across the aisle to install lots of Democrats in top positions.

MUNICIPAL MATTERS

Lynn officials are urged to scrap a local ordinance designed to prevent home foreclosures in the wake of a court ruling saying such local ordinances conflict with state law, the Item reports.

A Roxbury resident shares his journey through the Boston Police Department complaint process.

CASINOS

A group seeking to build a casino in Somerset has merged with another group that lost out on its bid to get a license in Milford and Foxwoods is joining forces with a New Bedford developer to build one there, bringing the number of applicants from five down to three for the final casino license in the state in the South Coast region.

The Herald reports that Wynn Resorts representatives are continuing to meet with Boston transportation officials regarding traffic issues at its Everett casino, despite the fact that Boston is suing the state gambling commission over its awarding of a casino license to the company.

OLYMPICS

Boston hosts a three-hour meeting with residents on its Olympics bid. Boston Mayor Marty Walsh says an Olympics bid could help improve the city’s transportation infrastructure, which came under pressure during the recent snowstorms, WBUR reports. NECN has video. The Herald reports that the proposed “walkable” Olympics would involve lots of road closures and detours — and says the Boston 2024 proposal tried to placate any concerns the US Olympic Committee might have by saying the region is accustomed to such disruptions because of the endless agony of the Big Dig.

Top mayoral aide Joe Rull is jumping from City Hall to work for Boston 2024, a clear sign that the Walsh administration and the Olympic effort are now joined at the hip. Rull says he got the green light for the move from the state Ethics Commission, but the Herald reports that he’ll be walking an ethics minefield in his new post, with former state inspector general Greg Sullivan telling the paper, “I’d be very nervous and very concerned about being in that position, because it’s very easy to cross the line and be in violation of the law.” Former gubernatorial candidate Evan Falchuk, who is now organizing for a statewide ballot question on the Olympics, adds, “When you have the mayor saying, ‘I’m basically going to deputize my top guy to go to work at the Olympics,’ it begs the question, who does everybody work for?”

WASHINGTON/NATIONAL/INTERNATIONAL

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie is facing a new federal investigation, ABC News reports.

BUSINESS/ECONOMY

Ice dams are giving homeowners headaches but are providing business for roofing companies.

The Globe’s Megan Woolhouse details how rising food costs ripple their way through the supply chain and land at a Dorchester taqueria that is struggling to maintain the affordable price-points that are its sweet spot.

Although the state’s economy ranks among the highest-performing in the country, Massachusetts does not fare as well when it comes to measures of residents’ overall economic well-being, according to a report being released today by researchers at the University of Vermont.

Radio Shack files for bankruptcy and it appears space in most of its stores will be turned over to Sprint, Time reports.

EDUCATION

A state takeover of the Holyoke public schools seems likely, CommonWealth reports.

Tewksbury is putting full-day kindergarten on hold as it copes with an influx of 19 special-needs students who will be taught at out-of-district schools where the cost can range from $30,000 to more than $200,000 a year, the Lowell Sun reports.

Fewer college graduates are applying for the Teach for America program, which places select teachers in some of the country’s neediest schools.

Like most districts about to run out of snow days, schools in the Berkshires are trying to figure out what to do about the end of the school year

HEALTH CARE

The new CEO of Partners HealthCare says the hospital giant will continue to expand, but not necessarily in Massachusetts, WBUR reports.

New rules to allow frail elders to remain in assisted living residences, the Globe reports. CommonWealth reported on some of the difficulties with that type of policy in its story, “Aging in place.”

Massachusetts hospitals are being urged to limit the prescription of narcotic painkillers and keep track of those seeking the drugs to feed an addiction in an effort to close off one avenue of illegal use.

A proposed California law would require children to be vaccinated for measles and other diseases before attending school, Governing reports.

TRANSPORTATION

The cash-strapped MBTA will continue late-night service until mid-June, but is making no assurances beyond that.

Charles Chieppo, in a Globe op-ed, lays out a plan to fix the T. It includes the introduction of tolls on limited-access highways and reform of the system’s costly bus maintenance procedures.

The T promised repairs to a rail bridge between Salem and Beverly in 2008, but the work was never done, the Salem News reports.

The first big-data genetic profile of a city subway system finds germs that can cause bubonic plague and meningitis as well as germs that can help clean up the environment, the Wall Street Journal reports.The germs were found on the New York subway system.

ENERGY/ENVIRONMENT

New England’s power grid operator is paying out $4 billion in incentives to make sure there’s enough electricity being generated three years from now, CommonWealth reports.

CRIMINAL JUSTICE

James Kerasiotes, the former chairman of the Massachusetts Turnpike Authority, gets six months in prison for filing tax returns that cheated the IRA out of $30,000, the Associated Press reports.

The Plymouth County district attorney is seeking new offices in Brockton, leading to speculation the move would put the office outside of walking distance from the District and Superior courts downtown.

Police in Methuen arrest three for selling 150 grams of heroin, the Eagle-Tribune reports.

Meet the Author

Jack Sullivan

Senior Investigative Reporter, CommonWealth

About Jack Sullivan

Jack Sullivan is now retired. A veteran of the Boston newspaper scene for nearly three decades. Prior to joining CommonWealth, he was editorial page editor of The Patriot Ledger in Quincy, a part of the GateHouse Media chain. Prior to that he was news editor at another GateHouse paper, The Enterprise of Brockton, and also was city edition editor at the Ledger. Jack was an investigative and enterprise reporter and executive city editor at the Boston Herald and a reporter at The Boston Globe.

He has reported stories such as the federal investigation into the Teamsters, the workings of the Yawkey Trust and sale of the Red Sox, organized crime, the church sex abuse scandal and the September 11 terrorist attacks. He has covered the State House, state and local politics, K-16 education, courts, crime, and general assignment.

Jack received the New England Press Association award for investigative reporting for a series on unused properties owned by the Catholic Archdiocese of Boston, and shared the association's award for business for his reporting on the sale of the Boston Red Sox. As the Ledger editorial page editor, he won second place in 2007 for editorial writing from the Inland Press Association, the nation's oldest national journalism association of nearly 900 newspapers as members.

At CommonWealth, Jack and editor Bruce Mohl won first place for In-Depth Reporting from the Association of Capitol Reporters and Editors for a look at special education funding in Massachusetts. The same organization also awarded first place to a unique collaboration between WFXT-TV (FOX25) and CommonWealth for a series of stories on the Boston Redevelopment Authority and city employees getting affordable housing units, written by Jack and Bruce.

About Jack Sullivan

Jack Sullivan is now retired. A veteran of the Boston newspaper scene for nearly three decades. Prior to joining CommonWealth, he was editorial page editor of The Patriot Ledger in Quincy, a part of the GateHouse Media chain. Prior to that he was news editor at another GateHouse paper, The Enterprise of Brockton, and also was city edition editor at the Ledger. Jack was an investigative and enterprise reporter and executive city editor at the Boston Herald and a reporter at The Boston Globe.

He has reported stories such as the federal investigation into the Teamsters, the workings of the Yawkey Trust and sale of the Red Sox, organized crime, the church sex abuse scandal and the September 11 terrorist attacks. He has covered the State House, state and local politics, K-16 education, courts, crime, and general assignment.

Jack received the New England Press Association award for investigative reporting for a series on unused properties owned by the Catholic Archdiocese of Boston, and shared the association's award for business for his reporting on the sale of the Boston Red Sox. As the Ledger editorial page editor, he won second place in 2007 for editorial writing from the Inland Press Association, the nation's oldest national journalism association of nearly 900 newspapers as members.

At CommonWealth, Jack and editor Bruce Mohl won first place for In-Depth Reporting from the Association of Capitol Reporters and Editors for a look at special education funding in Massachusetts. The same organization also awarded first place to a unique collaboration between WFXT-TV (FOX25) and CommonWealth for a series of stories on the Boston Redevelopment Authority and city employees getting affordable housing units, written by Jack and Bruce.

MEDIA

Mark Olivieri, who has been publisher of GateHouse Media’s weekly papers on the South Shore and Cape,has been named publisher of the Patriot Ledger and Brockton Enterprise, which are also part of GateHouse.