Brian Williams Inadvertently Scolds Chris Matthews

On last night's Hardball, NBC Nightly News anchor Brian Williams unintentionally slammed Chris Matthews on his own show. Discussing Walter Cronkite's famous declaration of U.S defeat in Vietnam, Williams claimed it was a watershed moment because the former CBS anchor had earned the "credibility" of his viewers but warned today's anchors can't have the same effect because: "People do Cronkite-esque statements on topics every day now. On, on cable, you can see one an hour." Williams was probably referencing Matthews' competitors but as any regular viewer of Hardball knows the charge is easily applied to his NBC colleague as Matthews is constantly making his own "Cronkite-esqe" declarations of U.S. defeat in Iraq.

The following exchanged occurred on the February 22nd edition of Hardball:

Matthews: "Let me ask you about the role of, here's a tricky question for you, Brian. Walter Cronkite, in ‘68."

Williams: "Yeah, that was fascinating."

Matthews: "Offered a commentary, which he never did before, or maybe never did again, about the, not so much about the politics, as the situation in Vietnam and said that we were not winning the war. And that was a major statement by a man who never had taken an opinion. As a journalist, as a broadcast journalist, very much working now in the setting of Cronkite, what did you think of that?"

Williams: "I think, Chris, the following: You get one of those in life, okay? That was, that was Walter Cronkite's choice, a crowning moment. He was cashing in a check that the American people had made out to him. And, and, and on that check was the sum total of everything he meant to all of us who tuned in every night. He, he was a nightly visitor in my living room. Dinner couldn't be served until he said, 'That's the way it is.' And, so, in return for that, he said, ‘You've given me credibility, the, the mother's milk of our business. You've obviously placed your trust in me. You want to know what I think about this? I've just been there. I've taken a look at this war. Here's what I think about this.' You get one of those chits."

Matthews: "Right."

Williams: "And this goes to the kind of cheapening of our, our discourse and communications. People do Cronkite-esque statements on topics every day now. On, on cable, you can see one an hour."

Matthews: "Yeah."

Williams: "Somebody stakes their reputation on something. They'll stake it on something else the next day. But, because our media times have changed, you won't see that anymore. I guess the living equivalent would be if, if our mutual friend Tom Brokaw would, would decide, after a life well lived, a brilliant career that has now contributed to the lexicon the expression 'The Greatest Generation,' the guy is held in great esteem by the American people. If he we were to come out on a topic and issue a strong opinion."

Matthews: "Sometimes, I think opinion is the wrong word. I think Cronkite was giving us his report. But you're right. It was such a bottom-line report that it was political."

Williams: "Yeah, yeah."

Matthews: "It was saying what we must do now, given these facts. It was, in a way, prescriptive." 

Geoffrey Dickens
Geoffrey Dickens
Geoffrey Dickens is the Deputy Research Director at the Media Research Center.