High-profile speakers attract the kind of crowds and media attention organizers of events hope for. But, they also attract people with agendas who are eager — and sometimes overzealous — to gain support for their cause.
Such was the case at a recent lecture I covered at The Catholic University of America in Washington.
NBC “Nightly News” anchor and managing editor Brian Williams was the featured speaker for a Catholic Common Ground Initiative event, which was in part a tribute to the late “Meet the Press” moderator Tim Russert, who died June 13, and how Russert’s Catholic roots helped propel him to become one of the most respected political journalists on U.S. television. (Russert originally was scheduled to deliver the address that evening.)
In an effort to engage the audience in the dialogue, organizers allowed the audience to ask Williams and the other speakers questions. However, most of the four audience members who took control of the microphone ended up asking rhetorical questions that had little to do with the subject of common ground, but rather the specific causes they hoped to push.
The most notable came from a gentleman who wanted to know why NBC wasn’t airing news stories about a woman in Emmitsburg, Md., who has claimed to see regular apparitions of Mary since the late 1980s and has been directed to deliver heavenly messages.
Though Williams said he didn’t know about the story, he politely told the gentleman that his network receives thousands of news tips every year and they can’t possibly investigate them all.
What Williams didn’t know is that this woman’s claims have been dismissed by the Archdiocese of Baltimore and the Vatican.
The NBC news anchor made it clear to the audience that under normal circumstances he would stay after the lecture and spend more time with members but that he had to rush out that evening and drive to New Jersey.
But the Emmitsburg “visionary” advocate followed the newsman into the hallway to plead his case for news coverage and caused a scene, which required security to escort him out of the building, delaying Williams’ exit.
Though he was gracious and understanding about the drama that unfolded, Williams was the victim of his own celebrity and prominent position as a pipeline for information to a national audience.