Perry on Politics: Does Williams suffer anchor's envy?

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NBC's Brian Williams (Associated Press photo)NBC's Brian Williams (Associated Press photo)

By James M. Perry

For Brian Williams, this is all so sad, for it never needed to happen.

I sympathize with Mr. Williams, for he was born in Elmira, N.Y., and so was I. We both attended the Hendy Avenue Elementary School. He moved on to New Jersey, I moved on to Philadelphia. There is (or was) a big sign entering Elmira. I think it reads, Elmira, N.Y., Home Town of Brian Williams.

Mr. Williams' fall from grace was touched off by angry soldiers, who said his story about being in a helicopter in Iraq that was hit by a rocket-propelled grenade simply wasn't true. He was, in fact, miles away. Others jumped in with allegations that he had inserted himself into other stories, always with the intention of putting himself at the center of the action.

Why would he do that?

I suspect it was because, as a celebrated anchor he understood that his fame prohibited him from doing real reporting. Anchors usually manage the evening news and sometimes they travel with all their minions to trouble spots for a day or two to show the network flag. They make millions. Somebody else, though, does the bulk of the reporting.

More often than not, that "somebody else" for NBC News is a 41-year-old war correspondent, Richard Engel. He's covered fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan, violence in Egypt and Syria and Libya, and dangerous situations in other places. He and his crew were kidnapped in Syria in 2012 (and released later). He was awarded the Medill Medal for Courage in Journalism in 2007.

Richard Engel is the real thing.

Some anchors are frustrated because they really are pretty good reporters. I remember traveling with Roger Mudd when he was just beginning to be famous. We couldn't go anywhere without swarms of fans accosting Mr. Mudd and demanding a handshake or an autograph. It was deeply frustrating, for he was a fine reporter and those swarms of fans meant he couldn't do his job.

NBC News, Mr. Williams' employer, has a proud history. It broadcast the first newscast in history on Feb. 21, 1940, with Lowell Thomas, something of a celebrity himself, as anchor. The first celebrity anchors were Chet Huntley and David Brinkley; they anchored the NBC evening news for 14 years, beginning in 1956. Mr. Huntley's retirement gave CBS News the opening it needed, and that network's show, anchored by the avuncular Walter Cronkite, led the field for 19 years. Mr. Cronkite had been a war correspondent for United Press in World War II, seeing action in North Africa and Europe. That may have helped the night he condemned the war in Vietnam as unwinnable.

Mr. Williams has anchored the NBC evening show for ten years, and his audience is larger than that of anyone else. He's smooth, smart, sometimes even funny. He's a good, solid anchor with 9 million people tuning in five days a week to watch him anchor the day's news. It's not as big an audience as these shows used to attract, but 9 million viewers is still impressive.

Now, because of the lies, he may lose his job. Why did he do it? I suspect he did it because he wanted his American viewers to see him as a tough, courageous reporter, willing to travel to danger spots around the world. Just like his colleague, Richard Engel.

An old friend from Elmira e-mailed me about "our Brian."

"Very sad," she said.

James M. Perry, a prominent veteran political reporter, contributes regular observations to Mr. Perry was the chief political correspondent of The Wall Street Journal until his retirement. Prior to that, he covered national politics for the Dow Jones weekly, The National Observer.


Breakfast Sausage: 5 stories to read today

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20141104bwWhiteLocal01-erJesse White, his wife Eileen and their son Atticus last year. (Bill Wade/Post-Gazette)

1) We honestly don't know what to make of the latest Jesse White news – it's not every day that you get sued by your mother, right? Charlene Watazychyn says her son, the former state representative, ran up charges on a credit card he opened in her name; Mr. White responded by saying his mother is seeking payback after he and his wife cut back on the time they allowed Ms. Watazychyn to spend with her grandson.

2) We're less confused by this one: Twanda Carlisle is considering a run for her old Pittsburgh City Council seat – you know, the same one she gave up just before she was convicted on corruption charges in 2008 and sentenced to prison.

3) The fact that both Lyft and Uber are still both operating in Pittsburgh after a year loaded with pushback from the state is impressive. But we're wondering if the ride-sharing services are a little too successful, as our Kim Lyons writes, drivers for both services say they're not making the trips – or the money – that they used to.

4) Despite a persistent rumor to the contrary, state Sen. Dominic Pileggi is one of the few politicians in the state who isn't considering a run for a seat on the Pennsylvania Supreme Court. Mr. Pileggi, who was just ousted from his post as Senate majority leader, is interested in becoming a judge; he announced last week he would run for a vacant seat on the Delaware County Court of Common Pleas.

5) The chief justice of Alabama's Supreme Court has ordered probate judges in the state to ignore the ruling of a federal judge and refuse to hand out marriage licenses to same-sex couples. In asserting that the federal courts don't have jurisdiction to overturn Alabama's constitutional amendment banning same-sex unions – states' rights, anyone? – Chief Justice Roy Moore is setting himself up for another fall; he was removed from office in 2003 after defying a federal court ruling to remove a monument of the Ten Commandments from Alabama's Supreme Court building. Note: Chief Justice Moore isn't going to get any help from the U.S. Supreme Court; over the weekend, it said it would not overturn the federal court order.


Breakfast Sausage: 5 stories to read today

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(Associated Press photo)(Associated Press photo)

1) Being president means you're always a target for criticism, even after a seemingly innocuous thing like an address at the National Prayer Breakfast. Conservative media types quickly fixed on President Obama's remarks during Thursday's address that "people committed terrible deeds in the name of Christ," and that "in our home country, slavery and Jim Crow all too often was justified in the name of Christ." Rick Santorum, our former U.S. senator and likely Republican presidential candidate, was especially vocal; in a statement released through his Patriot Voices PAC, called the remarks "insulting to every person of faith."

2) We'd have to guess that the Enterprise Fund, a Pennsylvania-based PAC, doesn't care one way or another what Mr. Obama said at the prayer breakfast. Instead, they're scrounging up money for a fine for filing financial information -- about a donation to Rob McCord, no less -- in a tardy fashion.

3) As a name, Gov. Tom Wolf sounds ... fine. But we'd like Governor Go Time much better.

4) Ronald Castille's brand may never be hotter; the tough-talking former chief justice of the Pennsylvania Supreme Court spent a lot of time making headlines last year as he juggled the investigation into the state's pornographic email scandal. But it seems like the retired justice is happy to be retired; he's turned down a push to have him run as a Republican candidate for mayor of Philadelphia.

5) We're not huge fans of country and/or western. But we have plenty of friends in low places.


Breakfast Sausage: 5 stories to read today

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Ken Gormley, left, speaks with U.S. Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas and Judge Thomas Hardiman of the U.S. Court of Appeals, Third District. (Rebecca Droke/Post-Gazette)Ken Gormley, left, speaks with U.S. Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas and Judge Thomas Hardiman of the U.S. Court of Appeals, Third District. (Rebecca Droke/Post-Gazette)

1) Gov. Tom Wolf has nominated two people to short-term stints on the state Supreme Court, one of whom should be familiar in these parts: Ken Gormley, dean of Duquesne University's law school. Mr. Gormley, a Democrat, would serve alongside Republican Thomas Kistler, president judge of in Centre County, assuming both nominees are confirmed by the state Senate. Both would serve on the court through the end of the year in the places of former justices Ronald Castille, who retired in December after turning 70, and Seamus McCaffery, who stepped down from the court because of his involvement in last year's pornographic email scandal.

2) If Tom Wheeler has his way, there will be no fast or slow lanes on the Internet. Mr. Wheeler, chairman of the Federal Communications Commission, has announced his plan to re-classify Internet service providers as utilities, which would give the FCC greater leeway to apply tougher regulations to the industry – and, we'd hope, ensuring net neutrality for all.

3) An amendment to the Pennsylvania constitution that would give lawmakers more flexibility to define and regulate nonprofits, won't make it on the ballot in the spring. And there are questions about whether the language of the amendment is specific enough to allow the General Assembly to make substantial changes if the amendment is adopted.

4) Remember Mitt Romney and the 47 percent? If Jeb Bush runs for the presidency in 2016, he won't make the same mistake.

5) We spent a little time on Wednesday checking out Pittsburgh's new Fiscal Focus website. In short, we're impressed. This is what open government should look like in 2015, boys and girls.


Hampton resident announces run for district judge

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Mike McMullen

Hampton resident and longtime Republican activist Mike McMullen will seek Democratic and Republican nominations in the May primary election for the district judge's post serving Hampton, Richland and West Deer.

Mr. McMullen, 44, graduated from Deer Lakes High School and earned a political science degree from the University of Pittsburgh-Johnstown in 1992. He is self-employed in sales and marketing; he has also worked as a soccer official at the high school, college and professional levels. His political experience includes time as a Republican committee member at the township and state levels and three stints as a delegate to the Republican National Convention.

Mr. McMullen also said he's a member of the First Presbyterian Church of Bakerstown and of the National Rifle Association.

"I will work with the local police departments and everyone will be treated will dignity and respect who enter the courtroom," Mr. McMullen said in a statement. "I will not legislate from the bench at all. It will be equal justice under the law. I will bring a conservative approach to the office as District Judge."

The seat is currently held by District Judge Suzanne Blaschak, who has been a district judge since 1984. A clerk in Judge Blaschak's office said she was not seeking re-election.