There’s talk about suspended NBC anchor Brian Williams possibly going on some kind of “apology tour” as a way of getting himself back into the good graces of the public, NBC and the News Godz. First of all he almost certainly won’t return to NBC…right? He’ll have to take a gig at CNN or someplace else. But he can’t go on the air again until he cleanses himself completely, until he atones for his sins. And the only way to do that is go back to the desert, back to the Middle East conflict where his troubles originated in ’03, and do some hard reporting and place himself in harm’s way. This kind of remedy is straight out of Joseph Conrad‘s “Lord Jim.” If you haven’t read the book then watch the 1965 Peter O’Toole movie.
I’m being perfectly serious here, serious as a heart attack. Williams has to put on the desert boots and the sunblock and go back to Iraq or maybe even Syria and get down on the ground and dodge bullets and this time ride in a helicopter that really gets attacked. Williams’ news industry colleagues would understand this. So would the public. They know from Christian mythology that the only way to purify your soul is to roam for 40 days and nights in the desert. Williams would be risking his life, of course, but people would respect that. They would get the idea.
And if God forbid the worst happens (and every news person who covers a dangerous war zone knows that this is a possibility), then Williams would at least have his honor back. In the words of Richard Crenna‘s captain in The Sand Pebbles, “If the San Pablo dies, she dies clean.”
But let’s not get morbid about this. Nor is it time for fairytales or easy fixes. Williams can’t “apology tour” his way out of this mess. He has to do the hard, risky thing. He has to earn his stripes back.