Will Brian Williams Lose His Job?

Posted: Feb 05, 2015 1:06 PM

Just to be clear, I'm not saying he should be fired in light of last night's jaw-dropping revelations. I'm asking the question. And I'm answering it: No, he won't lose his job.  NBC News is far too invested in Williams to bump him off over this years-long fabrication, and certain media figures seem to be bulletproof, regardless of their infraction.  The network had their anchor apologize on air last night, but as others have noted, he still isn't coming fully clean.  Williams' longer explanation on Facebook cited the "fog" of war as a culprit in the confusion, claiming that he'd "conflated" the helicopter he was traveling in with the one that was struck by an enemy RPG.  This version leaves the impression that he was part of a convoy that came under direct fire (see update below), forcing emergency landings.  The reality was quite different:

The admission came after crew members on the 159th Aviation Regiment’s Chinook that was hit by two rockets and small arms fire told Stars and Stripes that the NBC anchor was nowhere near that aircraft or two other Chinooks flying in the formation that took fire. Williams arrived in the area about an hour later on another helicopter after the other three had made an emergency landing, the crew members said.

Williams appears to have portrayed the events accurately in contemporaneous reporting, then the tale grew taller and taller as the years wore on.  He went from correctly stating that he was aboard a distant follow-on flight that landed without incident to effectively bragging that he'd been on the aircraft that suffered a direct hit and landed under duress.  Matt linked to the surreal video of the newsman recounting his harrowing story -- in great detail -- on David Letterman's show in 2013.  That same year, Williams retold the anecdote in another interview, averring that he "briefly" feared he might die during the ordeal.  He spoke viscerally and passionately about an experience that...never happened to him.  One "expert" on human memory has rushed to Williams' defense, dismissing the lapse as an "ordinary" instance of "false memory," which he says "happens to every human being."  It's no doubt true that memories can play tricks on people from time to time.  It's equally true that folks tend to misremember or embellish details of certain stories they relate.  But c'mon.  An "ordinary" false memory might involve the specifics of one's childhood athletic exploits or romantic pursuits in college.  It is, shall we say, very extraordinary to wrongly recall fearing for your life when your helicopter was shot at and hit over the Iraqi desert in the middle of a war.  False memories may be a real phenomenon that impacts most people to some degree or another.  But you know what else is an undeniably real, and rather prevalent, phenomenon?  Lying.  Will NBC News require an additional, more comprehensive, apology?  Might some form of sanctions be in order?  We'll see, but I wouldn't bet on it.

Regardless, Williams' reputation will suffer a significant blow over this -- especially since he's held himself up as a paragon of empirical impartiality, and has indignantly upbraided critics of the mainstream media's war coverage.  He's now a confirmed fabulist. It's especially problematic that Williams' quasi-correction only came after he was publicly and brutally called out by angry soldiers with direct knowledge of what did, and didn't, happen more than a decade ago.  Twitter has been predictably and unsparingly ruthless in its criticism and mockery of Williams, although Sean Davis has doctored up a chart that handily illustrates why the tempest will likely blow over:

Williams is on the "right team," and therefore falls within the protected class.  Speaking of which...

It's striking how similar these two fabrications are when placed side by side. Williams was exposed by irate servicemen; Hillary got nailed by a comedian. Which is worse?  A Daily Beast column on this controversy suggests that Williams' sin is graver than Hillary's because more integrity is expected from a television anchorman than from someone who's already measuring the Oval Office drapes.  Come to think  of it, Hillary -- whose near-death experience in a war zone qualifies her to be Commander-in-Chief -- will need to hire a media-savvy top spokesman some time soon.  Can anyone think of a kindred spirit candidate for the job?  I'll leave you with a very special flashback video.  As you watch this, keep in mind that the media was by and large completely in the tank for Obama at this stage, so the anti-Clinton coverage was Republican tough:

UPDATE - Hmm, this CNN story quotes the pilot of Williams' helicopter, who tells a story that hews more closely to the anchor's -- but still features key differences. Like, for example, they were never hit with an RPG. Another solider aboard the chopper said they never took enemy fire.  The CNN piece does indicate that Williams' aircraft landed close to an hour after the other ones were forced down, but may have been part of that initial convoy earlier in the flight.