NBC’s six month suspension of Brian Williams and investigation of his body of reporting is apparently still a work in progress. When they said they were assigning a team of investigators to comb through all of his appearances there were definitely some skeptics out there, but it looks like they are doing a thorough job since yet another possible “embellishment” has turned up. This one involves the meltdown in Egypt during January and February of 2011 as the Arab Spring unfolded. Williams was reporting live from Cairo at the time and was clearly on the scene for the action. But once again, it wasn’t what he said on the air for NBC that got him in trouble… it was when he later recounted the events for Jon Stewart on The Daily Show. (Coverage from The Daily Caller)
[A]ccording to two sources who spoke to The New York Times, NBC is looking into whether Williams fibbed about his reporting during Egypt’s Arab Spring, which began in Jan. 2011 and stretched into the next month.
In Feb. 2011, Williams told Jon Stewart during an appearance on “The Daily Show” that when he was in the middle of the protests in Tahrir Square he came into close contact with pro-government forces riding on camels and horses. He told Stewart he “actually made eye contact with the man on the lead horse.”
When Stewart asked if the men riding the horses whipped protesters — which had been reported at the time — Williams acknowledged that they did.
When I originally wrote about Williams’ various sins, I heard back from plenty of readers who thought I was being too easy on him. My reasons for not immediately leaping to burn the NBC anchor in effigy were primarily based on the fact that nobody seemed to have found any errors in his actual reporting that he did at the time these various events took place. It was only later, when spinning some yarns for late night shows, that he seemed to embellish the stories to aggrandize himself. Still not a good thing for a professional news man to do, but it could have been worse.
This latest incident appears to be more of the same. Going back to look at some of the original reporting he did from Cairo, Williams was actually there and seemed to be relaying the facts pretty much as they happened. But, as the Daily Caller notes, most of the reporting in question was done “from a balcony overlooking Tahrir Square” and not down in the mix with all of the rioters. For this story in particular that’s a rather important distinction. The Tahrir Square riots were incredibly dangerous and the reporters who were in the streets were facing very real peril, particularly the female ones. You may recall that there were sexual assaults on reporters by the mobs, including Lara Logan of CBS, a 22 year old Dutch reporter and British Journalist Natasha Smith. Given his senior status, Williams was no doubt in a considerably safer position up in the hotel.
And yet, for reasons which still escape me, when it came time for Williams to tell the story to late night comics years after the fact, he felt the need to put himself down on the streets. This modified story is particularly odd because it’s not as if he was describing some sort of attack on his person like the previously mentioned reporters experienced. He apparently crafted a tale which allowed him to be up close and personal with some horses and camels and to have been a shorter distance from some bullies who were whipping people. These are things he could just as easily have seen from the balcony with a zoom lens and it wasn’t as if he was claiming to be attacked himself, so I’m left wondering what the point was in lying about it?
In the end, it’s probably just part of the same pattern we’ve already seen established. Williams liked to tell stories about his days in the field and wanted people to be impressed, so he added in some juice to make himself look more heroic. And while this story once again does nothing to delegitimize NBC’s coverage of the riots, it’s just one more brick in the wall for Williams who will no longer carry the credibility he once had with his core audience. Honestly, I’ll be shocked if he comes back to the desk once the six month suspension is up. It might be time for him to retire and just work on a book and do the late night shows full time.