Brian Williams has had a rough week. His coverage of Hurricane Katrina, the Iraq War, and the 2006 Lebanon War are being called into question. He seems to have a history of conflating, or embellishing, events in his stories. In the case of his Iraq War exploits, it turns out that was a straight up lie. Adding to the awkwardness is this 2004 snippet found by CNSNews.com’s Brittany Hughes, where Williams said at the National Conference of the Society of Professional Journalists that “integrity…is all we have” as broadcast journalists.
Williams discusses the painstaking process that is involved in editing a story for live television; it goes through senior editors, writers, and the executive producer who gives it the green light to be read on air.
When you create a story at NBC Nightly News–when I sit down to write copy for air, I assign it in the computer a one. It then goes through a series of traps, where writers and senior editors assign it a two, three, four, and then it is ‘X’d by the executive producer; no item can be read on the air without carrying an ‘X.’ If it needs to be amended, I go back into the document to see what they’ve done to my…poetry really [laughter], and, but -- I’m joking, but this is how we make sure–and we toil and sometimes argue, and fuss, and fight, over every word that goes out over the air; this is what we do. Talk about integrity, this is all we have.
Now, Mr. Williams surely didn’t exude the same tedious process when it came to guest appearances on talk shows, or interviews with other journalists, where he detailed his past exploits. NBC News executives reportedly told him to quit telling the Chinook story in public, which has since put his career in jeopardy. Oh, and this fish tale was broadcast over live television–and described the incident as “Black Hawk Down meets Saving Private Ryan.” As for the radio chatter in the Williams video at the time, Travis Tritten of Stars and Stripes said that Williams and his news team held a microphone to the headset “so that they could pick up the radio communications between the company that they were in and another company of Chinooks that was flying a separate mission in the opposite direction. So what you’re hearing is that radio chatter from that other company that was coming under fire.”
As mentioned in a previous post, Williams’ stories about gangs overrunning his hotel in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina have also been called into question. The former general manager of the Ritz-Carlton hotel Williams stayed in, Myra DeGersdorff, said that there were no floating bodies. She stocked her hotel with medicine, got doctors, and housed some police officers in the some of the 452 rooms available, according to the Washington Post. In short, she was prepared, earning her the Ritz-Carlton President’s Award for her preparations:
DeGersdorff was surprised to flip on the news this week and see a perplexing story about NBC News anchor Brian Williams and the hotel she once managed. His recollection of what happened there didn’t match hers. In interviews that surfaced over the past week that she had never seen, Williams said the hotel was anything but secure. In fact, he told Tom Brokaw last summer, gangs had “overrun” the place. He spoke of seeing a dead body floating past the hotel. Williams also once told a book author that he got dysentery during Katrina. During his stay at the hotel, he said he declined an IV and then “had no medicine, nothing.”
“Maybe he misremembered,” she told The Post of Williams’s claims. “I’m not going to judge him, because it was such an unpleasant week and there were times to be concerned. … And when there is that kind of concern, you can misremember. And maybe he was out there, and it wasn’t impossible he could have encountered a body, but I don’t think it was in the French Quarter. The French Quarter only got inches” of flooding.
Now, the New Orleans Advocate did post photos of flooding in the French Quarter by the Ritz, but the depth could not be verified. It was shallow enough to see the sidewalk at the bottom.
So, is everything that Williams has said a lie? This Chinook story has some people looking back into the 1970s, with some folks in Red Bank, New Jersey challenging the story that the embattled news anchor was held up at gunpoint while delivering Christmas trees.
Yeah, it’s come to this. Right now, NBC News is still debating what to do with Williams. As National Review's Eliana Johnson wrote, contingency plans were reportedly discussed, each possibly effecting the network's revenue stream, especially the plan to move Matt Lauer from Today to Nightly News. With Meet the Press and the Today show losing their dominance in the ratings, the piece alleged that NBC News President, Deborah Turness, and Chairwoman of NBC Universal news group, Pat Fili-Krushel, are fearing for their jobs if Nightly News drops to number two in the ratings.