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February 12, 2015

Brian Williams suspended; Jon Stewart to exit The Daily Show


Two major media shake-ups this week: Jon Stewart announced that he will leave The Daily Show, while NBC News said it is suspending Nightly News anchor Brian Williams for spreading a false story.

The NBC controversy stems from Brian Williams’ claim that he was in a helicopter shot down by enemy fire in Iraq in 2003. On a Facebook entry about the incident, flight engineer Lance Reynolds commented that Williams had not been with his team on that flight. Other soldiers soon joined in contradicting Williams’ version of the event.

Williams apologized on the NBC Nightly News broadcast last week, saying he had “conflated” several events. NBC announced shortly afterward that Williams would be suspended without pay for six months and that the company is investigating the remarks.

“By his actions, Brian has jeopardized the trust millions of Americans place in NBC News. His actions are inexcusable and this suspension is severe and appropriate,” NBC Universal president Steve Burke said in a statement.

The incident has raised doubts about Williams’ credibility as a journalist and questions about whether people will trust him if he returns to the news desk.

It also raises the issue of how involved journalists should be in the stories they cover, according to former president of ABC News David Westin. “I would hope that all the newsrooms…take a hard look at themselves and ask themselves, are their anchors and their correspondents covering the story or are they trying to be part of the story?” he said.

Meanwhile, Jon Stewart will end a 17-year tenure at The Daily Show, where he pioneered a satirical style of media critique. The show gave rise to a new generation of comedy, from deadpan satirist Stephen Colbert to John Oliver and Larry Willmore, who now head their own shows. The Daily Show also became a source of news for many Americans, despite Stewart’s insistence that he is a comedian and not a journalist.

Explaining why he is leaving the program, Stewart said he would like to actually eat dinner with his children on school nights. The show “doesn’t deserve an even slightly restless host,” he said.

Society of Professional Journalists Code of Ethics
  1. Seek truth and report it.
  2. Minimize harm to subjects, colleagues and the general public.
  3. Act independently and avoid conflicts of interest.
  4. Be accountable and transparent.
Warm up questions
  1. What is trust?
  2. Who do you trust?
  3. Where do you watch or read the news?
  4. Do you consider The Daily Show news? Why or why not?
Critical thinking questions
  1. What are the pros and cons of people relying on shows such as The Daily Show for information about what is going on in the world?
  2. Why is it important for journalists to remain truthful and credible?
  3. Read at the Society of Professional Journalists Code of Ethics. In the case of Brian Williams, which part of the code of ethics was breached? Is there anything you would add to the list? (Note: the full version is available on SPJ’s website.)
  4. To what extent should journalists be a part of the stories they cover? Does a journalist’s personal involvement in a story interfere with his or her ability to cover it fairly?
  5. Do you think Brian Williams will be able to regain the public’s trust? Why or why not?
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