Tag Archives: Brian Williams

How is Brian Williams NOT like Pete Carroll?

OK, I’m still in mourning over our Seahawks defeat in the Superbowl. Somehow getting there two years in a row–a feat few in our area ever dared dream of–is tainted by one play.

So that’s kinda how Brian Williams and Pete Carroll are alike. Both have had fantastically successful careers, rising to the top of their profession and being counted among the very best of the best. Both made huge mistakes in front of millions–mistakes that cause us mere mortals to shake our heads in wonder, with even a bit of pity. How have the mighty fallen!

Brian Williams’ mistake will likely not only cost him his job, but like Dan Rather, his place in the pantheon next to the place of Walter Cronkite and Edward R. Murrows. Pete Carroll’s mistake will be remembered and talked about, but will likely not diminish much his stature as one of the truly great coaches of our time.

Why? Credibility.

Credibility is gold. It is the currency on which reputations live or die. It is the one thing no person, no organization, no government can afford to lose and expect to be effective. I made that point as strongly as I could in Now Is Too Late, and suggested that if you find yourself in a position where your credibility is lost, you only have two options: give up or borrow someone else’s.

Brian’s credibility was severely damaged by the revelation of being less than honest about his Iraq experience. It was destroyed by his inept explanations that have been denied by the witnesses present.

Carroll’s credibility as a supreme coach, tied closely to his competence and success in winning games, was and is severely tested by the decision to pass the ball rather than let Marshawn run it in. His response was different: he accepted full responsibility. (The fact that Russell Wilson attempted to also take full responsibility leads me to have more pride in the Seahawks in defeat than I could in victory.) There is considerable reason to believe that it was offensive coach Darrell Bevell who made the fateful call. But it really doesn’t matter as Carroll has taken full responsibility. If he had made even the slightest effort to shift the blame to Bevell, his credibility would sink like gold in a pool. Or turn to lead. Like Williams.

Certainly there are other differences. Football, after all is just a game (yeah, try telling that to Seattle right now). Being nightly news anchor means you have exceptionally strong pull over public opinion which can have huge consequences for the nation and world. One mistake was a question of judgment, the other a question of character. There are big differences alright. But the primary lesson remains the same:

Credibility is gold.

CEOs and their communication leaders must understand that nothing, nothing can be allowed to disrupt their credibility. Battles for public opinion most often come down to the question as to who can be believed, who can be trusted. Aristotle was right when teaching about rhetoric that the three basic appeals in persuasion are logos, pathos, ethos. Logic, emotion and the appeal to the person–credibility of the speaker. Of the three, he was clear that the most important was ethos. Yet, how often don’t we see credibility being tossed aside like it doesn’t matter. Even more, how often do we see individuals, companies and organizations fail to protect their credibility against attacks. This is why I highlighted Elon Musk and Tesla’s aggressive response to a negative New York Times review and US government safety investigation.

And how does one build and protect credibility: tell the truth, all the time. Don’t be like Brian.





NBC News and Lasik surgery–an egregious example

We now take it as commonplace to see the kind of coverage that NBC News provided about lasik eye surgery. I think Brian Williams is the class act on network news and they have done a stellar job of set design, integration with msnbc.com, etc. But their coverage of lasik surgery is a great example of what is wrong with news today.

Here is the video of the report.

It starts with the teaser-which suggested (I am recalling from viewing the original report a couple of days ago) that there was new information about the dangers of lasik surgery. Get attention? As Williams suggested in this opening lines–this will be of high interest to those who got surgery or who are contemplating it.

What was the news? The FDA is holding hearings. That was the only news. But, what was the message conveyed? The lasik eye surgery is a highly risky procedure with potentially disabling side effects. What was the evidence? The sad experience of one young man. I want to take nothing away from the misery endured by this man who suffers from extreme dry eyes, apparently from his surgery.  But the story mentioned that 12.4 million people have had this surgery, that 700,000 people get it every year, and showed one doctor in the report that indicated he turns away a number of patients because they are not good candidates.

The reporter and NBC News will say in defense that see, they reported all the “good stuff,” but the truth is the way the story was set up by the teaser, the tone of it, and the singular focus on one pitiful case of surgery gone sideways left a clear and indelible message that this is something highly dangerous, under-regulated, with millions taking undue risks because doctors are hiding the risks. If anyone who watched it didn’t get that message let me know.

I have some sensitivity to the issue because a few years ago one of my clients had one of the largest and most successful lasik surgery clinics in North America. He was driven out of business by a huge jump in insurance premiums based on a class action lawsuit. The enterprising attorney was attempting to assemble a class for action, and got on Good Morning America–with a couple of patients (sisters I believe) who had surgery and complained about their problems. The truth was, they refused to come in for secondary treatment which is relatively common. They wanted the problem and didn’t want it to go away and the attorney wanted to assemble a class. Good Morning America was more than willing to comply. We offered to come on the show with them–they denied us the opportunity and gave us 15 minutes to offer a written statement. Which we did and they waved at the camera during the completely bogus report.

As a result of this combination of legal entrepreneurship with media ratings hunting, the lasik clinic with likely the highest safety and performance rating at that time had to be shut down.

It is common for the public to buy into the media’s own messiah-complex that they are operating for the public good–in this case trying to save innocent people from the horrors experienced by the gentleman pictured. But, they can and frequently do untold damage by these kinds of reports as well. Innocent people get hurt by bad surgery, and innocent people get hurt by audience-greedy journalists as well.