Quotes of the day

It’s hard to see how Williams gets past this, and how he survives as the face of NBC News.

An anchor’s No. 1 requirement is that he or she has credibility. If we don’t believe what an anchor tells us, what’s the point?

I take no joy in any of this. I’ve always liked and admired Brian Williams. He was a different type of anchor, not the sonorous Voice of God of yore. He seemed a much more approachable type of person, someone you’d like to have a drink with. He wasn’t so full of himself. He could kick back on the late-night shows…

I kind of wish I could say, “Say it isn’t so, Brian.”

But it is.


What makes Williams’ admission worse, according to one person familiar with the situation, is that he had been counseled in the past by senior NBC News executives to stop telling the story in public. The advice, this person said, was not heeded.  One person familiar with current NBC News operations disputed that information.

Williams’ version of the story has never been allowed in NBC News programs, according to three people familiar with the unit. Indeed, in a March, 2003, episode of “Dateline,” Williams described the helicopter trip accurately. “On the ground, we learned the Chinook ahead of us was almost blown out of the sky,” he said while narrating a report.

The way in which the story has transformed under his telling may prove unacceptable to a news audience, suggested Doug Spero, an associate professor of communication at Meredith College in Raleigh, N.C., who has worked at various New York TV-news outlets. “A memory loss is OK. if it is a minor detail about something in a story, but when you are personally involved in an incident there is no room for compromise.  I have always said, ‘I believe you until I can’t believe you any more.’ This may be that case.  All we have is our credibility.  Once you lose that, your general worth has been lowered.”


In “The White Album” Joan Didion famously wrote, “We tell ourselves stories in order to live” — and we seem still to like stories of heroes best. After all, what virtue is more dazzling than bravery? Give us “the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood,” as Teddy Roosevelt said (himself a paragon of bravery): Hercules, not Theseus; David the Giant-Slayer, not Solomon the Sage.

As individuals and as communities we are constantly on the lookout for those rare specimens who have passed through the crucible. How surprising is it, then, that ambitious types, keen on this or that glory, are often more than willing to fit themselves to the role — and happy, too, to believe the story they tell? “In short,” wrote Nietzsche, with his usual cynicism, “the constant fluttering around the single flame of vanity is so much the rule and law that almost nothing is more incomprehensible than how an honest and pure urge for truth could make its appearance among men.”


I still find it just about incomprehensible that someone (a) whose professional background involves observing and reporting events, and (b) who holds one of the handful of jobs in the world most reliant on trustworthiness, and (c) who knew he was talking to an audience of millions of people that would (d) include others with first-hand knowledge of the incident, would nonetheless (e) “misremember” what must have been one of the most dramatic and traumatic moments of his life, after (f) accurately reporting the event for the first few years after it took place, and (g) when the whole thing is only a dozen years in the past, not somewhere in the fog of distant childhood memory…

What I find hard to imagine is telling a story I wasn’t 100% sure of, in public, with the detail, drama, and certainty Williams used in his famous session with David Letterman less than two years ago…

I try to put myself in this situation, and I can’t. Like every person I have misremembered things, and like many people I often exaggerate them. But in circumstances like this? Where you know that other witnesses could be listening in?


It’s clear what Clinton and Blumenthal had to gain politically. It’s less clear what Williams would have to gain. After all, jaded Americans expect a certain amount of lily-gilding from their politicians, but as a newscaster, Williams’s credibility, along with that authoritative voice, is his livelihood. He got it right initially. Watching the original segment, Williams is clear that he was never under fire, though helicopter pilots ahead of him on the same route were…

Put this all together, and one can easily imagine how Williams’s story snowballed. He’d been there and seen the damage in the chopper skin; he’d heard gunshots. He could easily imagine what it was like, or so he thought. Over the years, as he talked to friends or, say, famous talk-show hosts, he wanted them to feel the terror he’d felt, or maybe just to be impressed. With each telling, the last version was fresher in his memory than the original events; each time, it changed a little bit. Soon a tale about how you can feel danger just from being close to combat—surely a useful lesson for those of us who have never been near a firefight, for whom war is largely an abstraction—transformed into a story about the danger Williams actually felt in combat.

Williams may never have realized what was happening, until Stars & Stripes forced him to reckon with it. Maria Konnikova wrote Wednesday about how emotional memories work differently from normal ones, and they’re often less reliable. “When it comes to the central details of the event, like that the Challenger exploded, they are clearer and more accurate,” she noted—and indeed, helicopters really were shot at and damaged that day in Iraq. The pilots were too rattled to speak to Williams’s crew. “But when it comes to peripheral details, they are worse. And our confidence in them, while almost always strong, is often misplaced.”


DAVID ZURAWIK: …it’s not just that he lied for 12 years, it’s the kind of lie he told. There are millions of military families in this country who suffer everyday diminished lives by the injuries and the wounds that people who fought honorably in those wars suffered. Along comes an anchorman who didn’t do it who tries to appropriate some of their honor for himself by that lie. You tell me how any member of any military family in this country can look at him on TV and not feel contempt for him. That’s why I think it’s going to be very hard for him to continue and look, managing editor and anchor, he is the face of their news division. Even if all he did was lie, I don’t think he should be the face of that news division any longer. I’m sorry and I think you know, we have this thing in the media oh, we’re all part of this fraternity. That’s why the public hates us, because we won’t call each other out. This is a terrible thing that Williams did. I don’t know why he did it. I don’t know how he did it, Brooke. I’m not trying to psychoanalyze him. I just know we should have a higher standard for the people who lead news divisions – he has one of the most honored jobs in this country as managing editor of a network news division. We can do better than people who say I don’t know what got screwed up in my brain to say this…

NBC itself, in various press venues, publicity venues, has told versions of this story. So, they’re kind of complicit in it and that’s going to be a problem for them, too, to take any kind of action against him. We’re going find out: are they more concerned with having the number one rated anchor on television or are they concerned about credibility? You can have both, but I don’t think you can have both once your anchorman makes this kind of – and I almost said mistake, but I’m not going to give him the credit, benefit of the doubt and say mistake. This is a lie and we should call it as such. 


A production crew accompanied Williams on the helicopter outing. The Erik Wemple Blog has asked NBC News who and how many people were on that crew. But where have they been as Williams has gone about misremembering the episode in media appearances in recent years? Upon the 10th anniversary of the incident, the anchor visited David Letterman and couldn’t have been more unequivocal about having ridden in the ‘copter under attack: “Two of the four helicopters were hit, by ground fire, including the one I was in, RPG and AK-47,” Williams told the “Late Show” host…

Again: Where were Williams’s crew members, who surely knew that Williams had either “conflated” his Chinook with another Chinook — his explanation — or was using the passage of time to embellish his own exploits — another explanation. And what of other NBC News employees who worked on the story? Why did they remain silent on these matters? Are they still with NBC News?…

By all logic, NBC News would like to rest on Williams’s apology, ride out the media storm and, eventually, move ahead with things. Yet the fact that personnel aside from Williams knew that his statements on these events were erroneous should prompt an internal probe as to how these falsehoods circulated so freely.


Americans’ confidence in the establishment press is at an all-time low. But it’s not low enough, even though the difference between newspapers and television news compared to Internet sources has virtually disappeared.

Brian Williams’ continued presence in the Nightly News anchor chair would henceforth make him the press’s poster child. He would become the starting point in any discussion of media bias with those who still believe that the press is fair and balanced — and readers can rest assured that Williams’ track record is a heavily documented, target-rich environment.

If the network continues to keep a serial fabricator on board, it will convince many of those who still buy what the press is selling that something is fundamentally wrong. That would be a fantastic development, because something is fundamentally wrong. The self-described watchdogs have instead become the left’s gatekeepers. The sooner everyone appreciates that, the better it will be for all…

We can always dream. Keep that dream alive, NBC. Keep Brian Williams right where he is.




Via the Corner.