With Brian Williams under fire after admitting that he “conflated” a story about his experience in the Iraq War, everyone from media pundits to memory experts has been struggling to explain why the anchor of America’s most-watched nightly newscast would lie. But Jon Stewart says he knows why.
“We got us a case here of infotainment confusion syndrome,” Stewart said on “The Daily Show” on Monday. “It occurs when the celebrity cortex gets its wires crossed with the medulla anchordala.”
When the “NBC Nightly News” anchor looks straight into the camera, the “medulla anchordala” is activated when the news is delivered, Stewart explained. But when Williams’ head is turned — as it was on his now-infamous 2013 appearance on “Late Night With David Letterman” — the “celebrity cortex,” err “celeb-rellum” is awoken.
“That’s known as the brain’s applause center,” Stewart said. “Once that engages, there’s no going back — you’re in full-blown anecdote mode. The truth of what a reporter is saying is all in the direction their face is turned.” He then gave several examples.
“Today marks the 70th anniversary of the end of World War II,” Stewart said facing the camera, before turning to his left and saying, “I know, because I killed Hitler.”
On Friday, Williams apologized on air for “misremembering” that he had not been traveling in a helicopter that was forced down by rocket-propelled grenade fire in Iraq in 2003, as he had said repeatedly since then. On Saturday, Williams announced that he was taking a temporary leave of absence from the “Nightly News” broadcast for “several days.”
“In the midst of a career spent covering and consuming news, it has become painfully apparent to me that I am presently too much a part of the news, due to my actions,” Williams said in a memo to NBC staffers. “Upon my return, I will continue my career-long effort to be worthy of the trust of those who place their trust in us.”
Ratings for Friday’s “Nightly News” were down 36 percent among 25-to-54-year-old viewers, the demographic coveted by advertisers, as ABC’s “World News Tonight” beat NBC among both total viewers and the 25-to-54-year-old demo.
It’s unclear how long Williams’ self-imposed suspension will last or whether NBC brass will even allow him to return to the air. NBC News President Deborah Turness said the network was conducting an internal investigation into Williams’ statements, as critics wonder if the newsman has lost his credibility.
On "Jimmy Kimmel Live," Fox News host Bill O'Reilly said Williams deserves a mulligan — but only one.
"Anybody that’s enjoying the destruction of this man, you gotta look at yourself here," O'Reilly added. "There's a lot of people that seem to be real happy that his career is going down the drain — that disturbs me."
In December, NBC signed Williams, who had recently celebrated his 10th anniversary as “Nightly News” anchor, to a new five-year contract worth a reported $10 million per year.
In a memo to staffers announcing the new deal, Turness wrote, “Brian is one of the most trusted journalists of our time.”
Not anymore. According to the Celebrity DBI — an index cited by the New York Times — Williams was the 23rd-most-trusted person in the country before his apology. On Monday, Williams was ranked No. 835.
Stewart was ranked No. 692.
O'Reilly? No. 3,021.