Let's hear all the facts on the Brian Williams investigation

Brian Williams will return in August as an anchor on MSNBC and a backup anchor for NBC.

Story highlights

  • NBC will allow Brian Williams to return, with much of his work appearing on MSNBC
  • Al Tompkins: NBC is making a mistake by not releasing findings of internal investigation of Williams

Al Tompkins is senior faculty for the Poynter Institute and has taught journalists affiliated with NBC-owned properties. Brian Williams wrote a one-line endorsement for Tompkins' book "Aim for the Heart," which appears on the book jacket. The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of the author.

(CNN)NBC and Brian Williams have more explaining to do if they expect viewers to hand over their trust a second time.

The network announced Thursday that Williams will return in August as an anchor on MSNBC and a backup anchor for NBC in what NBC News Chairman Andy Lack said is a chance to earn back the public's trust.
Al Tompkins
After questions arose regarding the accuracy of Williams' statements, NBC News assigned its top investigative producer to wade through his past and discover exaggerations and misstatements he has made on "Dateline NBC," "NBC Nightly News" and a range of late-night comedy shows, public appearances and radio talk shows. But NBC is keeping its findings to itself and is only saying that yes, they found inaccuracies in what Williams had said, but that most of those statements were not made on news programs.
    There are several places where the network's handling of Williams' case falls short:
    • When CBS had an independent investigation look into Dan Rather's reporting for "60 Minutes II," the network published a gut-wrenching, 224-page report that led to four firings and Rather's undoing. When Rolling Stone asked the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism to investigate the magazine's reporting on campus rape, the ugly truth emerged in detail in a public release and news conference. NBC should release the findings of its investigation.
    • NBC is moving Williams to MSNBC. But wait. Does that mean the network has lower or different ethics standards for its cable network? Is that how MSNBC gives activist Al Sharpton a show of his own when it bans other anchors from being activists? Why does the network have different ethics standards for different channels when the two cross lines so often? Just explain it to us.
    • NBC should use this opportunity to tell its anchors to "Just say 'No'" to invitations to appear on late-night comedy shows. In February, CBS' Scott Pelley told the Los Angeles Times: "I don't think it's appropriate for journalists to appear on entertainment programming. There's too much of a risk for the audience to think, 'Wait a minute -- is it scripted? Is it not? Are you telling me the truth? Is it acting?' That's a big, red line for me, and I never have crossed it."
    Before it's too late -- if it's not already -- and before the public completely dismisses broadcast news as mere entertainment, let's tell anchors to "Be like Scott." Just do the news. Don't appear in movies or skits or yuck it up with radio programs. It's not about being a stuffed shirt. It is about being a newsman. In that same Los Angeles Times article, Pelley mentioned that every night he thinks to himself that some CBS journalist somewhere risked his or her life to get a story on the air that day.
    Don't undermine that work by doing something that is self-promotional but adds nothing to the public discourse or important topics.
    When politicians and celebrities find themselves in trouble, journalists circle in the water until the subject comes clean -- sometimes in a tense, tearful news conference. It isn't enough to appear on your own network's morning program and answer questions from your pal. (Williams said in a taped interview with Matt Lauer on the "Today" show Friday that his ego caused him to say things that were not true.)
    Williams should stand up, face the cameras and come clean by answering reporters' questions.
    It would be tough, but it would show he's a stand-up guy and that he understands why people are upset with him. It would give him a chance to say what he will do differently. Experts in public apologies say an apology should include "regret, responsibility and remedy."
    I want Williams to make a comeback. I believe in second chances and redemption. The process begins with answering questions, not ducking them.