Kevin Price
Millennials' attitudes towards Brian Williams
By Kevin Price
March 5, 2015

Brian Williams of NBC Nightly News has received near universal criticism over his frequent "misstatements" that are now widely considered lies, regarding the dangers he faced covering the war in Iraq. If there has been a demographic that has been silent or even sympathetic to the veteran broadcaster, it was that population group we call millennials.

I began to notice something was different when two members of my radio show team,The Price of Business, could not understand the "big deal" about Brian Williams and his behavior. They couldn't "get it" when it came to the outcries against Brian Williams. I found this view from my staff to be very interesting. I asked around and although my "research" is largely anecdotal, it was enough to make me ask some questions to those with a little more expertise.

I reached out to several experts and those with more experience with millennials and received a considerable amount of feedback.

Carole Lieberman, M.D., a leading psychiatrist and author told me: "millennials don't have as much difficulty accepting his (Brian Williams) exaggerations of courage and prowess because they are more likely to have done the same themselves. There is an erosion of truth in America that has especially affected millennials, since they haven't grown up in a culture where honesty and hard work were as highly valued as they once were.

Instead, many millennials have grown up in a culture where everyone gets a prize, where shortcuts to goals are the norm, even if it means lying a little or stepping on someone else's toes. So, Brian Williams seems like just one of them, who believes the ends justify the means." This seemed like a harsh assessment and Dr. Lieberman is not a part of that generation, but her view is not isolated.

millennial marketer and entrepreneur, Naresh Vissa said the attitudes about Williams are really a reflection of their thoughts about the network, show, and the media itself. Vissa said that "millennials don't care about the Nightly News. There are better alternatives to old school news shows" in their opinion. "millennials get their information from social media and trendier news outlets, such as Business Insider, BuzzFeed and the Huffington Post... They attract millennials for their style, content and design. Brian Williams made a mistake, but he gets a pass because he's out of millennials' radars. Jon Stewart and Colbert resonate more with millennial audiences." It would be interesting to see if millennials would have the same casual attitude about Stewart or Colbert if they behaved like Williams. On the other hand, these celebrities and virtually all of the sources millennials go to obviously and purposefully misinform their audiences. It is all part of the "skit" or "routine" they are performing. It is likely that millennials do not see Williams as anything more than another entertainer.

Kate Wilson, who is a blogger who writes for JetFeeds, focuses on providing career and finance tips for her "fellow wandering twenty-somethings." She was very blunt and to the point on the Brian Williams controversy. "Frankly, millennials just don't care about the controversy surrounding Brian Williams. There's nothing to forgive, and it's already been forgotten."

"First of all, millennials don't and probably have not ever relied on news broadcasts for their news. That a paragon of the traditional news has been discredited has no bearing on their media consumption, because they don't get their news from news broadcasts anyway.

"Second of all, there has always been a prevailing distrust of news broadcasts and traditional institutions among millennials. Between the WMD debacle of the early 2000's and the Great Recession, most millennials have no reason to trust traditional institutions, including media networks. This distrust, coupled with the rise of social media and smartphones, causes many millennials to turn towards their own social networks for their news. That a news anchor has been proven to be dishonest is not news to a millennial." In other words, the institutions, including media, are seen by millennials as "liars," so why would one be surprised that its representatives would do the same thing? It is pretty cynical, but it appears the view of "don't trust anyone over 30" that was the mantra of Baby Boomers in the 1960s is alive and well today.

Brent Busboom, a Reno, Nevada High School English Teacher (AP English Lit, Senior English) for 15 years, gave a fresh "front lines" perspective on how young adults think. "Thanks to the Daily Show and Stephen Colbert, the millenials I teach are more clear-eyed and cynical about bias and exaggeration in journalism. They see Brian Williams' stories about being shot down in a helicopter, or getting dysentery, as something unfortunate, but expected. In their eyes, Williams' lies aren't nearly as important as the failure of the media to thoroughly investigate the Iraq war, a war in which they've seen some of their friends die. As one student told me, 'What do I care if Brian Williams was really shot down in a helicopter?" Besides, I bet many of the people in the media criticizing him have skeletons in their closets, too.'"

We live in a very different world when it comes to the perception of the media. Those before the millennials saw a clear line between journalists and entertainers. That line has become a blur to the younger generations. Furthermore, their "flexibility" when in comes to moral absolutes makes it much easier for them to forgive a journalist that behaves like an entertainer. Since the younger generation will eventually become the nation's leaders, the future of the news media itself appears to be in question.

© Kevin Price


The views expressed by RenewAmerica columnists are their own and do not necessarily reflect the position of RenewAmerica or its affiliates.
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Kevin Price

Kevin Price is Publisher and Editor in Chief of

His background is eclectic and includes years of experience in both business and public policy, as well as two decades of experience in broadcast journalism. He was an aide to U.S. Senator Gordon Humphrey (R-NH) and later went on to work in policy areas with some of the nation's leading think tanks including the National Center for Public Policy Research and was part of the Heritage Foundation's Annual Guide to Public Policy Experts... (more)


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