February 9, 2015
“So, when the helicopter we were traveling in was forced down after being hit by a RPG (rocket propelled grenade)…” The incident was back in 2003, and Brian Williams – network news anchor for NBC – was flying in a military Chinook helicopter with an American army general, over Iraq.
From reports at that time until now, the circumstances have become more swashbuckling, and it appears that the vaunted reporter rewrote history to make himself a central character in the story.
If Williams was a timeshare salesman, you could write his bravado off as zealous fictionizing. Entertainers are given a “pass” when they go off-script: no standards of ethic, truth or morality are applied to anything said by them, on-or-off camera. Politicians are assumed to pander their crowd or their donors, if it leads to an election victory. Journalists, however, are presumed to be precise: multiple sources are supposed to assure that their reports are rock-solid by the time they are aired in public.
Mr. Williams is now on an unscheduled break from his role in the anchor chair on NBC Nightly News. The network has commissioned an internal review to match the facts of the matter with the accounts offered by Williams in various interviews and public retellings. His reputation is experiencing a live autopsy to determine whether it’s dead or alive.
In December, NBC signed Williams to a five year extension of his contract as anchor and managing editor of their evening newscast; speculation placed his pay at $10 million/year. Last week, a survey commissioned by Variety – the weekly magazine focused on the entertainment sector – found that 80% of the people who watched or read his apology think he should be terminated. Compensation: high. Reputation: gone. Future: don’t bet on it.
A Harris Poll just assessed the American public’s view of company reputations. They offered 100 businesses to 27,278 people and asked their opinions of trust and desirability. Among the top ten were neighborhood favorites – Wegmans, Costco, Publix – internet champs – Amazon, Google – and some manufacturers – Samsung, Johnson & Johnson, Apple. The Top Three at the Bottom of the Barrel: Goldman Sachs, AIG, Dish Network. Profitability: high. Reputation: low. Future: anyone’s guess.
Who cares what anyone else thinks? What if you have to choose between relational regard and financial gain? Solomon has an opinion: “A good name is more desirable than great riches; to be esteemed is better than silver or gold.” (Proverbs 22:1) Is public relations just salve for losers, or is it worth something to have the respect that reputation reflects?
A thousand years after Solomon weighed in, Paul – the tentmaking Apostle – proposed standards for the leaders in the church in Ephesus. Among other criterion for candidacy: “…He must also have a good reputation with outsiders, so that he will not fall into disgrace and into the devil’s trap…” (1 Timothy 3:7) Paul’s standard: don’t just ask his church friends. Commission a poll with the prospect’s public contacts to see what they think of his credibility as a Christian example, out in the “real world.”
Brian Williams’ career may be downed by an RPG reputedly fired 12 years ago, or he may land it and be back in his anchor chair. Goldman Sachs has some work to do. Their core business principles are: 1) Our clients’ interests always come first; and, 2) Our assets are our people, capital and reputation. If any of these is ever diminished, the last (reputation) is the most difficult to restore.
It’s my job to live in a way that meets the minimums for Kingdom leadership. In that pursuit, reputation isn’t window-dressing: it’s mission-critical. I might fool the insiders, but the real test is measured in the opinions of the outsiders, whose view of me isn’t airbrushed by friendship that lacks objectivity.
The polls about you and me are constantly updated; how’s your world rating you?