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Two news anchors named Williams – one in Maine and one on national television – left their longtime jobs in recent days with dire warnings for us. We know it is awkward for journalists to essentially pat one another on the back, but their words bear repeating as we celebrate a season of joy and giving, and reflections and new starts. Their words also resonate as we face a worsening pandemic and a seemingly intractable political divide.
We don’t pretend that the words of Cindy Williams and Brian Williams will change the world, but we hope people will read or hear them and at least pause to consider their messages.
“We have been through a lot in the last two years,” Cindy Williams said at the end of her final newscast on Friday at NewsCenter Maine. “We’ve struggled and we’ve done it together.”
“But,” she said through tears, “we are also really divided … I really do believe that we are at a critical point in our history. Truth is under assault. I honestly do not know how we come together if people can’t decipher what is fact and what is fiction.
“So, I implore you not to believe everything you read online or you hear from news talk people who clearly seek to incite,” Williams continued. “There is so much misinformation out there and my hope is that you seek out truth and you do that through reputable news sources like the one I’ve been involved with my entire adult life.”
Williams joined WCSH in Portland in 1989, after working for TV stations in Mississippi and New Hampshire.
Earlier this month, Brian Williams – no relation to Cindy, as far as we know – also announced he was leaving his anchor desk at NBC. He, too, departed with a dark warning about our divisions and the ease with which false, divisive information is spread.
“For the first time in my 62 years, my biggest worry is for my country,” Brian Williams, a longtime NBC News anchor, said at the end of his Dec. 10 broadcast of the 11th Hour, his final one. He was suspended from NBC nightly news in 2015 for exaggerating details of a reporting stint in Iraq in 2003, including falsely saying that he was in a helicopter that was hit by enemy fire.
“I believe in this place and in my love of country, I yield to no one,” he said. “But, the darkness on the edge of town has spread to the main roads and highways and neighborhoods. It’s now at the local bar and the bowling alley, at the school board and the grocery store, and it must be acknowledged and answered for.
“Grown men and women who swore an oath to our constitution, elected by their constituents, possessing the kinds of college degrees I could only dream of, have decided to join the mob and become something they are not, while hoping we somehow forget who they were. They’ve decided to burn it all down with us inside,” Brian Williams warned. “That should scare you to no end.”
Their warnings are dark, and heartfelt. And, perhaps that’s why they are so important. These are two people who have spent their professional lives telling the stories of Mainers and of Americans. They have seen us at our best and our worst. They have chronicled great victories and horrifying disasters. They have shared stories of the best of humanity and of its worst.
When they tell us that we are at a critical juncture and that we need to make careful choices, based on verified information, we should listen.