Exit Interview: Brian Williams
Exit Interview: What are your memories from the WCAU days?
Brian Williams: Any visit to Jim’s Steaks or Tacconelli’s or DiNardo’s. I covered Jersey. I have been alarmed recently that there are a few vacant lots along routes 38 and 73 that don’t have an Olive Garden yet. We have a lot of work to do, people.
EI: Any Philly newsfolks you still keep in touch with?
BW: My closest friend is a cameraman, Chuck Williams. We would set out in a live truck every day. I spent more time with these guys than with my wife some weeks. The oldest adage in television is, “What happens on the road stays on the road.” But the worst thing I ever did in that van was consume staggering amounts of junk food. It was a bond.
EI: A bond forged in Cheetos.
BW: Cheetos? Hell, Arby’s, Roy Rogers, McDonald’s, Wendy’s, Burger King! Don’t screw around. Don’t dance on the edge of the diving board. Take the plunge.
EI: Some critics say you’re too buttoned-up on camera, yet you get rave reviews as a guest with Conan O’Brien and Jon Stewart. Can a network news anchor bring a pinch of levity to the newscast?
BW: I’d love for these critics to tell me where, in a newscast that begins with word that someone lost their son today in Iraq, where in the space of that 22 minutes they want this levity. This is not where people come to get their entertainment.
EI: Broadcasters insist the Dan Rather debacle hurt all the networks, but did you feel any satisfaction to see some upheaval across town?
BW: Absolutely not. This can happen in any shop. People who think the contrary simply don’t understand this issue. If I’m going to beat someone, I want it to be by dint of better news coverage, not a systemic failure. There is no joy in this.
EI: What are the perks of being the top dog at the network? An entourage? Groupies?
BW: No, I’m not into a lot of trappings or anything like that. People never believe me when I say this — delivering on-air is almost like an afterthought, because the work comes in compiling it, writing your copy and having the strength to go back into something you created and cut out 10 seconds for time.
EI: I’m sure some people think, “Brian Williams has been to Iraq, he’s covered the Clinton White House, so what’s a tough day at the office now? Some joker in the control room speeding up the teleprompter?”
BW: I’ve done a lot of real work in my lifetime. I’ve cleaned other people’s plates, I’ve sold Christmas trees out of the back of a truck, I’ve been a firefighter. This is very much a real job. It is 12-plus hours a day, and when we travel, it’s 20. You belong not necessarily to yourself or your family anymore. You belong to a much larger group.
EI: Is Brokaw making you carry on his World War II fetish?
BW: No, that’s Tom’s area.
EI: What’s up with your NASCAR jones?
BW: I got hooked when I was a real young kid. I just love it. I already know how New Yorkers feel about the issues, but I find more real Americans at NASCAR races than any other single place.
EI: I hear you drive a Mustang.
BW: Still awaiting delivery. It’s got a few custom options on it, so I’m waiting for them to get it to me.
EI: Any chance we’ll see it on one of those MTV shows?
BW: No, ’cause my ride will already be pimped! I’m into pre-pimping. It’s got to be done the way I want it.
EI: Anything else an anchorman needs pimped out? A hair dryer, or any kind of pimped products to achieve that anchor look?
BW: No. I go to the barber; I buy my clothes in the same stores everybody else uses. I don’t know anybody who spends more than two minutes a day thinking about it.
EI: What is your idea of a little slice of heaven away from the newsroom?
BW: Sitting on the beach with an iPod and a stack of books is my dream right now.
EI: What’s on Brian Williams’s iPod?
BW: A lot of stuff my son and daughter have purchased, a lot of my own. No jazz. It’s all rock music.
EI: Are you at the parenting stage where you’re telling your kids that today’s music is crap?
BW: Oh no, no. I’ve got Gusher [sic]. I’ve got Nelly and Ludacris, I’ve got some Shins. What’s interesting is they got into R.E.M. and U2 from me, and that’s cool.
EI: So when your newscast starts, it’s quite possible you were listening to some Usher or Ludacris just moments before.
BW: It is possible.
EI: When the news ends, do you have a signoff, like “Bravery!” or “Stay classy, America!”?
BW: No. Will Ferrell has now staked out that territory [in Anchorman], and my respect for him is such that I would never cheese off something he created. b