He did the crime and now he has done the time. The crime was exaggerating – embellishing – even inventing – a few moments in an otherwise admirable career. In telling and re-telling, he put himself in more dangerous positions covering war than he had actually been – not a good thing for an anchor, a correspondent, a star.
Brian Williams’ punishment was a work-release program. Instead of appearing on the main network of NBC, for the past five years he toiled at 11 PM on MSNBC, the cable version of the network, where he provided gravitas, experience, even grace.
Now Williams has announced he is leaving the network,. He has been a pro, listening to his guests, reacting to what they were saying, or what they were not saying. He presided over a recap of the day’s news and also the latest “breaking news” that never seems to stop. And when their segment was over, he thanked his guests, often with a turn of a phrase. (Wish I could come up with a few right now, but they were unfailingly witty and gracious.)
Some Friday nights, Williams’ handsome face has seemed drawn, his hair more gray, at 61, from dog years on the air. I feel the same way from watching MSNBC -- the same commercials for old-people ailments, plus a parade of hosts, some of whom have lost their charm, who natter on, before finally prodding the guests, who can’t always deduce the question, much less the answer.
And for four years, the whole process was polluted by a president who did not know truth or reality, only what he could stuff in his gunnysack.
It’s not all bad, of course. Andrea Mitchell, the noon anchor, has been there, done that, for decades.
Nicolle Wallace and Lawrence O’Donnell have worked inside government; Steve Kornacki can name every county seat in this huge county. Chris Hayes is best in front of an audience. And the younger correspondents out in the field – too many of them to list -- are darn good reporters,
I remember when Rachel Maddow would go out in the field to report and editorialize about states polluting their own rivers, states doing their darndest to make Black college students dare to vote in some obscure outback. She was wonderful, and urgent. Now she talks. A lot.
Brian Williams, doing his time, pulled the whole day together in the final 60 minutes.
I don’t know whether Williams is looking to rest and spend time with his family (the standard departure goal for politicians, or come up with a fresh gig in a better time in front of much larger network audiences. That’s up to him. I only know that Brian Williams has been a ray of experience and poise. Thanks, man.
Measuring Covid Deaths, by David Leonhardt. July 17, 2023. NYT online.
The United States has reached a milestone in the long struggle against Covid: The total number of Americans dying each day — from any cause — is no longer historically abnormal….
After three horrific years, in which Covid has killed more than one million Americans and transformed parts of daily life, the virus has turned into an ordinary illness.
The progress stems mostly from three factors:
First, about three-quarters of U.S. adults have received at least one vaccine shot.
Second, more than three-quarters of Americans have been infected with Covid, providing natural immunity from future symptoms. (About 97 percent of adults fall into at least one of those first two categories.)
Third, post-infection treatments like Paxlovid, which can reduce the severity of symptoms, became widely available last year.
“Nearly every death is preventable,” Dr. Ashish Jha, who was until recently President Biden’s top Covid adviser, told me. “We are at a point where almost everybody who’s up to date on their vaccines and gets treated if they have Covid, they rarely end up in the hospital, they almost never die.”
That is also true for most high-risk people, Jha pointed out, including older adults — like his parents, who are in their 80s — and people whose immune systems are compromised. “Even for most — not all but most —immuno-compromised people, vaccines are actually still quite effective at preventing against serious illness,” he said. “There has been a lot of bad information out there that somehow if you’re immuno-compromised that vaccines don’t work.”
That excess deaths have fallen close to zero helps make this point: If Covid were still a dire threat to large numbers of people, that would show up in the data.
One point of confusion, I think, has been the way that many Americans — including we in the media — have talked about the immuno-compromised. They are a more diverse group than casual discussion often imagines.
Most immuno-compromised people are at little additional risk from Covid — even people with serious conditions, such as multiple sclerosis or a history of many cancers. A much smaller group, such as people who have received kidney transplants or are undergoing active chemotherapy, face higher risks.
Covid’s toll, to be clear, has not fallen to zero. The C.D.C.’s main Covid webpage estimates that about 80 people per day have been dying from the virus in recent weeks, which is equal to about 1 percent of overall daily deaths.
The official number is probably an exaggeration because it includes some people who had virus when they died even though it was not the underlying cause of death. Other C.D.C. data suggests that almost one-third of official recent Covid deaths have fallen into this category. A study published in the journal Clinical Infectious Diseases came to similar conclusions.
Dr. Shira Doron, the chief infection control officer at Tufts Medicine in Massachusetts, told me that “age is clearly the most substantial risk factor.” Covid’s victims are both older and disproportionately unvaccinated. Given the politics of vaccination, the recent victims are also disproportionately
Republican and white.
Each of these deaths is a tragedy. The deaths that were preventable — because somebody had not received available vaccines and treatments — seem particularly tragic. (Here’s a Times guide to help you think about when to get your next booster shot.)
From the great Maureen Dowd:
As I write this, I’m in a deserted newsroom in The Times’s D.C. office. After working at home for two years during Covid, I was elated to get back, so I could wander around and pick up the latest scoop.
But in the last year, there has been only a smattering of people whenever I’m here, with row upon row of empty desks. Sometimes a larger group gets lured in for a meeting with a platter of bagels."
--- Dowd writes about the lost world of journalists clustered in newsrooms at all hours, smoking, drinking, gossipping, making phone calls, typing, editing.
"Putting out the paper," we called it.
Much more than nostalgia.