NBC News is in crisis, but since crisis creates opportunity, let's begin with some unsolicited advice for Comcast, NBC News and Brian Williams:
Williams could anchor a two-hour prime-time special on NBC, followed by two days of serious and intelligent discussion on MSNBC, about the full range of issues challenging American veterans and military families after more than a decade of war, and the good works of Americans across the nation who offer them heartfelt and effective support.
Such an enterprise would be in the broadcasting tradition of Edward R. Murrow, would receive strong sponsorship support from corporations and ratings support from audiences, and most important, it would be the right thing to do. If such a program included a serious discussion of veterans' suicides, and publicized the suicide prevention hotline at the Veterans Administration (which I have supported before and can be reached by calling 1-800-273-8255), it would almost certainly save lives.
If you are a vet who reads this and is even remotely contemplating suicide, or a friend or family of such a vet, please call the suicide hotline number above. It is staffed by good people who are there to help.
The amount of good that can be done by Williams, Comcast, NBC News and all other news organizations by increasing awareness of this and other excellent programs is enormous and in the best tradition of American broadcasting.
Regarding the imbroglio surrounding Williams, while I prefer evaluating the evidence at the trial before joining the herd for the hanging, this much seems clear:
First, Williams obviously embellished his war story and for this there should be, and has been, significant sanction. Credibility is the coin of the realm in the news business, and once tarnished, it must be earned back through good work and great diligence.
Second, Williams actually did put himself in harm's way in the early days of the Iraq War, even as he exaggerated his exploits, which is more than can be said for many of his critics who demand his demise from the safety of the studio and the keyboard.
And third, while few can match the gold standard set by his predecessor in the anchor's chair, Tom Brokaw, Williams has long been a genuine admirer and supporter of those who wear the uniform.
Because we live in a nation of second chances, where we are taught that those who live in glass houses should not throw stones, my hope is that Brian Williams someday returns to the anchor's chair. The larger issue is the fate of the network news as an institution in American media and the role of the network news in American life.
NBC News will come back from its current troubles. There are many good people doing great work at all three major network news divisions, including NBC. There are full-time war correspondents at all three major networks and the leading cable companies. There is and will always be a need for television network news to bring the nation together to share the news of the day and the clash of ideas, objectively presented, from political leaders and opinion makers.
Budowsky was an aide to former Sen. Lloyd Bentsen (D-Texas) and former Rep. Bill Alexander (D-Ark.), who was then chief deputy majority whip of the House. He holds an LL.M. degree in international financial law from the London School of Economics. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.