Marketing Communications & PR

7 Pertinent Lessons from Brian Williams–Jon Stewart Double Play

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Those of us, who have been watching “The Daily Show with Jon Stewart” for a long time, might recall an ongoing segment that he used to run several years ago, “The Giant Head of Brian Williams.” Given Brian Williams sudden fall from grace this week, including a six-month suspension from work, Jon Stewart’s literal representation of him from way back when, almost seems metaphorically surreal. In fact, in that April 10, 2007 video clip that I have linked to above, Brian’s big head, looms large on a giant TV monitor behind and overlooking Jon at work on his Daily Show set, and mockingly says to him:

Jon…you use a teleprompter…so let me get this straight, you have to read the fake news, you can’t remember it?

Given the turn of events in the past few days, it looks like Brian was pretty much doing something similar on occasion under the garb of real news? So when news simultaneously broke on February 10, 2015, about Brian’s suspension by NBC News and Jon’s own announcement regarding leaving his “fake news” show, I facetiously tweeted this:

#JonStewart leaving #DailyShow & #BriWi suspended 6 mos–it’s a fake news double play? Say it ain’t so, Jon?

No schadenfreude was intended by my tweet. In fact, there are several lessons that we as business professionals can learn from this “double play” that might help us in our own daily lives. Here are what I believe are the 7 most pertinent lessons:

7 When any set of facts involves more than just you, manipulating these facts is a fool’s errand.
6 With the passage of time, your memory might play tricks on you, but the memories of others – who were also involved in the same set of facts that you have since manipulated – might not be concurrently playing tricks on them.
5 Over a period of time, what began as a seemingly harmless manipulation of a set of facts eventually turns into lies, especially if you repeatedly brag about that manipulated set of facts, increase the distortion with each telling, and somehow you never get caught until karma finally catches up with you?
4 When you tend to manipulate the facts over a great length of time, the truth eventually comes out, sometimes at the most unexpected of moments – karma is a witch.
3 When you do finally get caught in your web of lies, your ensuing apology must be immediate, sincere and display a genuine sense of remorse.
2 Your contrition must include keeping a low profile during your time away from the public eye, where applicable, and you must not attempt either a premature rehabilitation or a public relations makeover.
1 It’s always best to leave voluntarily when you are at the top of your game, when people will wonder why (à la Jon Stewart), not when they begin to doubt why not (à la Brian Williams)?

It is worth noting what that other lovable “giant head,” actor Michael J. Fox, once said:

One’s dignity may be assaulted, vandalized and cruelly mocked, but it can never be taken away unless it is surrendered.

So I suspect that Brian Williams will redeem himself and be back in the public eye, even if he doesn’t return as anchor of the NBC Nightly News. However, most of us will really miss Jon Stewart, after he ends his run at The Daily Show. So let me indulge in this Mark Anthony type eulogy in reverse, where I come “not to bury Jon, but to praise him” as follows:

Jon Stewart has taken his comedic talents to an art form – he is funny, smart, naturally self-deprecating, articulate, well versed on a variety of topics, a natural interviewer, very intelligent (different from being smart, and he masks his intelligence in order to not overwhelm either his guest or his audience), and most importantly, a lovable personality to both sexes. So this kind of complete package is going to be very difficult to replicate. It is a persona that needs to be cultivated over a period of time and with experience. 

We will miss Jon Stewart in “Indecision 2016” but we will savor every episode from now until he signs off later this year. It’s another tribute to Jon Stewart’s acumen that he is going out while he is still on top, while his adoring fans are still wondering why?

So that’s the #1 lesson, we all should have learned from that infamous double play of February 10, 2015 – it’s always about knowing when to say when?

Image – courtesy “The Daily Show with Jon Stewart