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Why Brian Williams should resign

Brian Williams has stepped away from "NBC Nightly

Brian Williams has stepped away from "NBC Nightly News." But will his absence be permanent? Should it be? Credit: AP / Invision / Brad Barket

It's all over but the press release.

Brian Williams as anchor of the “NBC Nightly News” is done.

There is no way to contain the damage. No way to continue. No way out.

He should end this at 10 years, as anchor of TV's most-watched news program. That was a good run. He deserves a lot of credit for the success. Let's hope this will also be what people remember.

But it's still over, or should be over.

Everybody realizes this, or at least everyone but Williams.

Will he be back? No one knows the answer, of course, so let's confine ourselves here to the more important question: Should he come back?

But first, some reflections on developments of the past 24 hours. 

On Saturday, he had NBC send out a statement saying he had decided to remove himself from the air "for the next several days ... for me to allow us to adequately deal with this issue."

Lester Holt "very kindly" agreed to take his place. Williams will then return "to continue my career-long effort to be worthy of the trust of those who place their trust in us."

But his statement had a taint of delusion, a whiff of doublespeak. Williams sounds like someone who actually believes what he wrote.

Does anyone else really believe he walked into the office of the president of NBC News to say, "Well, I think for the good of the organization..." And then the boss said, "Oh sure, good idea..."

Really? Then I have news for you: This is way over her pay grade, and way over Williams'. The catastrophe has engulfed parent company Comcast and almost certainly an army of lawyers that it has convened to figure out a way to extricate itself from this. Williams, I imagine, has his lawyers lined up, too.

Does anyone really think Holt will be on the air to let them work this out?

Again, sorry. No. NBC will carefully study the ratings over the next few days to see whether the audience bails on "Nightly News." But if the numbers are at least equal to or slightly below Williams' broadcast, then NBC News will conclude that likable, trusted veteran Holt just might be a good replacement after all.

This move is all about the ratings and all about the money.

You are now witnessing the endgame, and it is a hard, sad thing to witness. But don't put blinkers on either. This is over.

NBC has already begun to reap the whirlwind, along with the rest of the media that are combing through every single utterance Williams has made over the last decade and beyond.

Some report on Friday even claimed he had made up a story about puppies. Puppies!

How did it all come to this? Why come to this?

Posts for another day, no doubt, but the obvious remains painfully obvious: Don't tell some fanciful war story, then repeat it over and over again, with escalating levels of phony detail and bravura.

Certainly don't tell it on the air and assume a trail of video won't be left behind to corroborate the breathtaking baloney of it all.

"Misremember," as Williams blamed on this.

Or should we just reach reflectively for Twain and Lincoln on the matter:

Twain: “If you tell the truth, you don't have to remember anything.”

Lincoln: “No man has a good enough memory to make a successful liar.”

The real problem, as has been pointed out to me, is that Williams told his now-discredited downed-helicopter-RPG story on "Nightly News" last month. It's one matter to pipe a story on "Late Show with David Letterman," as he did in 2013.

But it's a whole other magnitude of malfeasance to have piped it on a news program.

That could be the coup de grâce.

So let's examine the options going forward.

There is a right thing for Williams and NBC to do, and there is a "money" thing to do — the latter protecting a huge financial investment who is now at the outset of a $40 million, four-year deal.

NBC is already well into the money thing.

But what's the right thing to do? That's obvious. Williams should resign.

Admittedly, my thinking on this has "evolved" over the last couple of days -- "evolved" being just a another word for “changed my mind.”

In the hours after this broke last week, I wanted to believe him — that he actually had "misremembered," whatever that is, or that he had "conflated," whatever THAT is.

Mostly, I wanted to hear his side of the story, in greater detail, and on NBC's air.

Maybe there was a full and complete explanation — maybe he had corroborating proof that something similar had happened, or maybe he had colleagues who would attest to some portion of the story, or maybe he suffered from some form of temporary amnesia.

Maybe, maybe, maybe.

There has to be some reasonable explanation here. Let's let him tell it.

Then silence.

Nothing on NBC. Nothing on "Nightly News," as if nothing had happened.

At that point, suspicions take root and grow. Why the silence?

Is it possible that what he said is in fact indefensible, and that he knows it?

Is it possible that if he got on the air and said, "I made up a story to benefit the greater glory of me, and for that I apologize" — then after saying that, there would simply be nothing left to say?

Is it also possible that NBC News bears some blame here? One of the helicopter pilots was just on Brian Stelter’s “Reliable Sources,” saying he had told the network long ago that the story simply was not true.

So, in the absence of evidence to the contrary, one is simply left to assume that he did make up a story for the greater glory of himself, and then retold it and finally retold it on NBC's air, no less.

Why resign as opposed to other forms of penance?

The reason is that these other forms are meaningless, and in the greater scheme may even add to the damage already done.

As an example, how can NBC cover veterans affairs going forward without an asterisk appended: "Our anchorman told an untruth about his own wartime experience. Sorry."

How can he look in the camera every night and tell 9 million viewers, "In the news tonight ..." without every word that follows freighted with some sad shadow that the man saying these words has told a whopper already?

How can he look at colleagues, after the 15th apology and tell them he's sorry, for the 15th time?

Apologies are meaningless. His damage is their damage, too. It's collateral, and he can't apologize for them.

NBC is clearly temporizing. It wants to sift through this disaster carefully, hoping, praying that the passage of time will heal this gaping wound.

In fact, the one hard, undissolvable core value that an anchorman or woman must have is trust. Of course, anchormen and women, being humans, will err, and they will make mistakes and they will be imperfect.

But viewers know that. What they won’t tolerate is a lie. When trust is shattered, it is impossible to reassemble the pieces. Something else then replaces that badge of "trust." It's called "doubt." In its own strange way, "doubt" is as powerful as "trust," but impossible to shake. For a professional anchor, it's a scarlet letter.

Williams — understandably reeling from this disaster — may actually believe he can come back and earn back that trust.

But once gone, it's gone forever. I'm sorry. I really am. But this is the end, or should be.

There’s nothing left to do now but the press release.

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