Residents rally around Brian Williams
It seems that not everybody has given up on beleaguered NBC Nightly News anchor Brian Williams -- at least not in New Canaan. Williams, suspended for six months by NBC for "misremembering" his experiences during a 2003 helicopter attack while on assignment in Iraq, still has some support from his fellow town residents.
"I think six months without pay is a bit harsh -- to take someone who made that mistake and get rid of him for half a year," said 21-year-old New Canaan native Jack Bennett. "He's certainly not the first and won't be the last to misremember."
Last week, NBC suspended Williams as anchor and managing editor of NBC Nightly News for six months without pay for saying he was aboard a Chinook military helicopter when it was struck by a hostile grenade over the desert outside Baghdad in 2003. After veterans began to question Williams' account and the story gained momentum, the newsman came forward and acknowledged another helicopter had been struck, and apologized for misleading the public.
Bennett, who says Williams' story was probably more of a stretch of the truth than a deliberate lie, said the need to punish Williams with the six-month suspension might have been avoided if Williams had apologized at greater length for the incident, but his apology on air did not come off as well as it could have.
"I think him not and the network not doing something so quickly led to that large of a suspension," Bennett said. "I feel bad for the guy. I watch him, I like him, and a I genuinely think he is a person and a reporter you can trust."
Marjorie Stevens, 75, a New Canaan resident for 28 years, also said the six-month punishment for his transgression was too harsh.
Whether Williams fabricated a false story purposely or not, Stevens said the 54-year-old newsman isn't the first figure to exaggerate their experiences -- including other journalists and politicians. She said she understands why embellishments by a journalist might hurt his credibility, but believes the rush to judgment, in this instance, has taken the punishment too far.
"I think we can all exaggerate stories and there have been politicians who have done worse," Stevens said. "I think they could have done something not quite so severe as that. I'm hoping he gets his job back."
Last week, Williams announced over the weekend he would step down "for several days" after apologizing for saying he was aboard a U.S. military Chinook helicopter that was struck by a grenade while covering the Iraq War in 2003.
The network subsequently decided to impose the six-month suspension without pay, with NBC chief executive Steve Burke calling Williams' actions, "inexcusable." Meanwhile, critics have become more strident and begun to seek out other potential fabrications to possibly show a wider pattern of Williams' stretching the truth.
Emily Basaran, 30, of New Canaan, said she watched Williams and she still trusted the anchorman to report the news accurately, but said he got carried away with his story, provoking the indignation of military veterans.
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Perhaps after the six-month suspension is over the tempers of outraged veterans will have cooled off to allow William to reclaim his top role at the network, she said.
"Personally, I watch him and would be sad to see him go," Basaran said. "If it gave offense to veterans, that needs to be taken into account when the decision is made, but I'm sure opinions among them would vary."
At the New Canaan Library, Gary Vujs, of North Stamford, said while he didn't wish to condemn Williams for misrepresenting his experience, it was still a cardinal sin for such a prominent journalist to inflate his part in a story.
"If a reporter doesn't have integrity, he doesn't have anything," Vujs said.
"I've never thought of him as being much of a reporter, but I wouldn't want to beat him up and be the one to say he shouldn't be allowed to do a job he'd done for a long time."