Liberal Columnist Matt Wilstein: 'Brian Williams Deserves The Benefit Of The Doubt'

Liberal columnist Matt Wilstein of Mediaite has been one of the few voices to speak up in disgraced NBC anchor Brian Williams' favor following a scandal that erupted this week between Williams and members of the U.S. military.

Williams issued a public apology and admitted to fabricating a story he'd told about being on a downed chopper in Iraq.

Williams had repeatedly told the story about riding in a helicopter that was hit with a rocket-propelled grenade during his coverage in Iraq in 2003; then, he said, he was protected by the U.S. Army when the helicopter crash landed. But in reality Williams was safe inside a different aircraft.

He admitted to the lie, posting an apology on his Facebook page:

"I feel terrible about making this mistake, especially since I found my OWN WRITING about the incident from back in '08, and I was indeed on the Chinook behind the bird that took the RPG in the tail housing just above the ramp. Because I have no desire to fictionalize my experience (we all saw it happened the first time) and no need to dramatize events as they actually happened, I think the constant viewing of the video showing us inspecting the impact area — and the fog of memory over 12 years — made me conflate the two, and I apologize."
For Matt Wilstein, this is where the scandal should end. Why?

In a column posted to Mediaite Friday, Wilstein said Williams should be given "the benefit of the doubt" because "memory isn't perfect and war stories tend to get exaggerated over the years."

"Even if Williams didn't simply 'conflate' two events in his head and was actually trying to prop himself up by exaggerating his wartime experience, he wasn't doing it as Brian Williams the NBC Nightly News anchor, but rather as Brian Williams the man who may have legitimately thought he was going to die while flying over a war zone during the Iraq invasion. He didn't get someone else's story wrong, he got his own story wrong. And that matters."
Wilstein also believes that firing Brian Williams would create a ratings dilemma for the already-struggling network, and more than anyone else, "Williams is the face of NBC, and not just its news division."

"Besides his 'Slow Jam the News' segments and edited rap songs on Jimmy Fallon's show, Williams has also leant his talents to other NBC properties by hosting Saturday Night Live and appearing on 30 Rock.

So to summarize: He should not be fired because of ratings, celebrity, and he lied about his own story, not someone else's.

Not surprisingly, the commenters at Mediaite ripped Matt Wilstein apart.

"His job is to be accurate about his own experience. Mistakes occasionally, inevitably happen when gathering facts from other reporters and putting a story together. When relaying your own experience there is no excuse for it."

"Unfortunately what he does requires immense credibility. And right now, Williams has none."

"Because for libs, it's about the anchor's politics and not their ability to truthfully deliver the news."

"If it was a FOX anchor the outrage would be 10 fold."

Do you think Matt Wilstein is right about giving Williams the benefit of the doubt, or has he badly misread the credentials of a reporter?

[Image via lev radin /]