Here are some of the things he told me…..
Williams gained attention as the first and only network evening news anchor to report from New Orleans during Hurricane Katrina, arriving even before the hurricane struck. He followed the story from the epicenter, reporting from inside the Superdome. Williams stayed in New Orleans for the aftermath and still visits the region to report on the recovery and rebuilding efforts.
He continues to spend a lot of time on the road, going where the news is. “I’m the representative,” he explains. “Most of the people in my audience are never going to get to Mosul, or Fallujah, or even Grand Isle Louisiana. So, I’ve got to be the guy telling them.”
Williams admits that these stories touch him personally. Returning recently from the Gulf where he covered the oil spill, he still has oil stains on his clothing. “I have some oil on my shirt that has been washed a couple of times – it ain’t coming out. This stuff is as permanent as ink from a pen. You put that in terms that people can understand and that helps to paint a picture.”
“I have a cup of oil from this oil spoil that I got out of the water,” he says. “It’s on our kitchen window sill and everyone who comes in our house looks at it. They take a knife and they dig into it – it’s solidified now. They want to smell it, they want to touch it, they want to see if it stains their skin. They want to experience it. On a larger level, that’s what I’m doing by going to these stories.”
He says that every story he covers affects him profoundly, especially getting to know the people whose lives are touched. Yet, he must remain objective in spite of his personal feelings. “I’ve got to turn around and give you as straight a version of what I’ve found as I can,” he explains.
Balancing Family with Work
With a wife, 22 year old daughter and 19 year old son, Williams has made a concerted effort to spend quality time with his family. “It has not been easy, but now it can be told that when my kids were young I managed to cut a lot of corners, drive real fast, and take an occasional slow afternoon off!” he says.
When his kids were young he worked at MSNBC at night, which allowed him to spend time with his children during the day. “I was the only Dad at a lot of daytime assemblies at school,” he recalls. “My son told me recently that his favorite thing was getting out early on Wednesdays and knowing my car was going to be outside the school waiting to pick him up. In a job where people assume I’m estranged from everything at home, you find a way to make the time you have, quality time.”
While his children aren’t directly following in Dad’s footsteps, they are interested in careers in entertainment. Williams’ describes his daughter as a performer, actress, vocalist, and improv comic. His son hopes to get into sports radio.
Williams is thankful that his daughter has a college degree and his son is in the midst of earning his. Not receiving his own college degree is probably the anchor’s biggest regret. “I didn’t even get a two-year Associates Degree,” he points out. “It’s a regret because you want to say to everybody ‘do as I say, not as I do.’ I happened to land in the one occupation where a degree, that piece of validation per se, isn’t really necessary. But I’m also in a very freakishly unique circumstance.”
He does, however, love to read and believes that his job is a master’s degree in itself. He enjoys Presidential history and American history and is sure to learn about the places he covers in the world. He is also a Bruce Springsteen fan, and recently filled in as a guest DJ for E Street Radio.
Read more in an upcoming issue of SJ Magazine (www.sjmagazine.net)