Brian Williams gets a “Crash” Course in PR

2015-02-09 by Ronn Torossian

brian williams public relations

Unless you never listen to the news and avoid social media like telemarketers, then you know veteran news anchor Brian Williams got himself in a bit of a bind recently. After telling a story, on the air, about being rescued after his helicopter was shot down in Iraq, Williams was outed by, among others the guys who were tasked with providing his escort in the war zone.

After getting called out about the false nature of his story, Williams more or less apologized during his nightly news program, but that half-hearted politician’s apology only made it worse.

Here’s what he said:

“On this broadcast last week, in an effort to honor and thank a veteran who protected me and so many others following a ground-fire incident in the desert during the Iraq War, I made a mistake in recalling the events of 12 years ago. It didn’t take long to hear from some brave men and women in the aircrews who were also in the desert.

I want to apologize: I said I was traveling in an aircraft that was hit by RPG fire. I was instead in a following aircraft.”

Later, when pressed on how he could “mistake” being in a chopper hit by an RPG rather than in one BEHIND a chopper that was hit by an RPG, Williams reportedly said he misremembered and again apologized for his mistake. This characterization simply served to fan the flames of his colossal flame out.

Politicians may get away with “misremembering,” but the general public sets a higher standard for news anchors. The public may assume bias, but they also expect trusted news providers to steer clear of blatantly lying or making up stories to pad their resumes. And, true or not, that is exactly the take-away most have from this event.

Even those who were willing to give Williams the benefit of the doubt – he WAS in a war zone, after all – are quiet after a second series of reports has come under question.

Williams has done a lot of things in his career, but his on the ground coverage of the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans arguably put him in the anchor chair after Tom Brokaw retired. One of the most quoted snippets from that coverage? A story about Williams watching a dead body float down flooded streets in the French Quarter.

Big problem with that…the French Quarter didn’t flood. In fact, of all the areas of the city, it was the most untouched by the catastrophe.

Though not completely unscathed, folks have been hard-pressed to find anyone who remembers dead bodies floating through the French Quarter.

With this new revelation, people are no longer asking “can we trust Brian Williams?”

They are wondering, openly and loudly, when he will be fired.

Ronn Torossian: Insights from a Native New Yorker and CEO of 5WPR

Ronn Torossian is the founder and CEO of 5W Public Relations, one of the largest independently-owned PR firms in the United States. With over 20 years of experience crafting and executing powerful narratives, Torossian is one of America's most prolific and well-respected Public Relations professionals. Since founding 5WPR in 2003, he has led the company's growth, overseeing more than 200 professionals in the company's headquarters in midtown Manhattan. With clients spanning corporate, technology, consumer and crisis, in addition to digital marketing and public affairs capabilities, 5WPR is regularly recognized as an industry leader and has been named "PR Agency of the Year" by the American Business Awards on multiple occasions. Throughout his career, Torossian has worked with some of the world's most visible companies, brands and organizations. His strategic, resourceful approach has been recognized with numerous awards including being named the Stevie American Business Awards 2020 Entrepreneur of the Year, the American Business Awards PR Executive of the Year, twice over, an Ernst & Young Entrepreneur of the Year semi-finalist, Metropolitan Magazine's Most Influential New Yorker, a 2020 Top Crisis Communications Professional by Business Insider, and a recipient of Crain’s New York 2021 Most Notable in Marketing & PR. Torossian is known as one of the country's foremost experts on crisis communications, and is called on to counsel blue chip companies, top business executives and entrepreneurs both in the United States and worldwide. Torossian has lectured on crisis PR at Harvard Business School, appears regularly on CNN & CNBC, is a contributing columnist for Forbes and the New York Observer, and has authored two editions of his book, "For Immediate Release: Shape Minds, Build Brands, and Deliver Results With Game-Changing Public Relations," which is an industry best-seller. A NYC native, Torossian lives in Manhattan with his children. He is a member of Young Presidents Organization (YPO), and active in numerous charities