The world of broadcast journalism was turned on its ear when top-rated NBC Nightly News Anchor Brian Williams was suspended for six months after admitting inaccuracies in his reporting. Reactions to Williams' fall from grace range from outrage to sadness to satisfaction.
Regardless of your opinion of Williams or his performance as a news professional, there is a lesson here from which we can all benefit: trust and credibility matter. Does it matter more because credibility is at the very core of Williams' role and responsibility as new anchor? Absolutely; but we should all take note of the range of reactions, particularly those most severe, that surfaced with this issue, and let it serve as a wake-up call to take inventory of any "little white lies" and exaggerations that may have worked their way into our daily conversation. As journalist David Carr recently pointed out in his New York Times editorial, "All those 1 percent enhancements along the way add up and can leave the teller a long way from the truth."
The fact that Mr. Williams' inaccuracy was delivered while in his professional role also makes it worse. The bar for integrity is highest in the interdependent, personal relationships of our professional life. Indeed, it defines our position with our customers and is built on trust and credibility. Telling "fishing tales" over a beer at the ballpark is one thing. Falsehoods and half-truths have no place in our communication with customers, peers or supervisors. We can all think of individuals in our professional life who push the boundaries of truth, and whose credibility has suffered accordingly.
Regardless of the outcome for NBC News Anchor Brian Williams, one thing is clear: Any benefit he realized from fabricating facts has been offset 1,000 times over in damage to his reputation and that of his employer. The tens of thousands of stories he got right have been forgotten over the one (or few) that he "misremembered." That's a priceless lesson for us all.