Brian Williams took his trademark blend of levity and gravitas to New York’s 92Y last night. There, exactly an hour after his Nightly News broadcast ended, he provided an in-depth look at the highlights and lowlights of his life. He touched on his connection to the Jersey shore, his early jobs working in a DC college press office and as a broadcast trade association typist and his current post as NBC news anchor.
Williams poked fun at NBC’s pharmaceutical advertisers, vented his anger about the handling of Hurricane Katrina and made poignant comments about the Newtown shooting. However, none of moderator Jonathan Tisch’s queries or the audience’s pre-screened questions addressed his network’s recent ratings decline or the status of Williams’ struggling news magazine show, Rock Center.
Here are selected quotes from Williams on a broad range of topics:
His Early Years:
On food he ate growing up: “For us, mixed greens were something that came out of a mower.”
On his fondness for firefighters: “I still hang out at the firehouse. It’s like I’m their human dalmatian.”
On his education: “I did spectacularly poorly at community college. I’m still only a high school grad; I’m not into that completion thing.”
On his reaction when his mother told him he’d be a good TV reporter: “I’d only been on closed circuit camera at 7-Eleven.”
Media and Journalism:
On his success as a journalist: “It’s an outlandish story that took me here. I’m living proof you can do it. I wasn’t going to be out-hustled.” (for more, see Mediabistro’s “My First Big Break” video)
On writing: “Nothing goes away, and it matters what you write. It’s a continuum in our business.”
On social media: “Social media has changed us beyond our ability to describe it just yet.”
On reporting without bias: “I try to cleanse my work of opinions, since I don’t think I need to add to the channels offering advice. [In my reporting] there’s no yelling, no one’s offended, it’s a measured view.”
On delivering hard breaking news: “It’s not a cherished role to tell breaking news. I still have people come up to me because they remember a specific news story I broke.”
On Hurricane Katrina: “Katrina offended me. It was a human rights failure involving benign and active forms of neglect. What an outrage that Katrina happened in such a rich city.”
On the Newtown, CT shooting: “Newtown was the saddest place on earth, just a crushing weight of sadness. Today’s Senate hearing was as sad as the day it happened.”
On New York City: “It’s the greatest city on earth and we know it. But the city better get a grip on its infrastructure fast. Infrastructure isn’t sexy, but we need better.”
Life Beyond the News:
On his appearances on comedy shows: “My daughter said if you just watched Nightly News, you’d have no idea about who I am. I’m fortunate that late night comics have wanted to have a news guy on and I have a blast. It’s like TV rodeo – they have home field advantage and they don’t let you forget it.”
On his daughter Allison’s success on the HBO series, Girls: “I’ll just be a human walking asterisk in about two weeks.”
On Nightly News’s advertisers: “When I use three or four of these [pharmaceutical] products, then I’ll retire.”
Well the man certainly has a sense of humor (and not just on The Soup).