Media in crisis: Can Brian Williams' career survive?; Update: "An NBC News-wide scandal"

And should it? The startling admission yesterday by NBC News anchor and managing editor Brian Williams that he falsified a tale that he had been telling for more than a decade about coming under fire in the 2003 invasion of Iraq has the media industry reeling today. Veterans are already sounding off about Williams’ 12-year deceit:


Kris “Tanto” Paronto, a former Army Ranger from 2nd Battalion 75th Ranger Regiment and a survivor in the 2012 Benghazi Consulate attack, was outraged.

“This is one of, if not the most despicable acts of lying to those who have served and the United States Citizens.  He is stealing valor from those that have actually seen combat, been shot at with RPG’s and small arms fire,” he said. “I can tell you from firsthand experience that you do not misremember being shot at. This lie and continual lying to cover up the first lie says a lot about Mr. Williams’ character, or lack thereof. This is a serious offense.”

Paronto added that while he is doubtful there will be any repercussions by NBC toward their prized “Nightly News” anchor, the public should scrutinize his legitimacy and everything he says.

“What concerns me as well is how much has he and/or NBC lied about over the years?  In my opinion, and that’s all it is, both are fully compromised news organizations and should no longer be a credible source for news for many years to come,” he stated. “Keep in mind, if military personnel would’ve done this, he/she would at very least be given an Article 15, busted down in rank, and possibly pay withheld until a full investigation was completed.”

Jonathan Gilliam, former Navy SEAL and federal agent condemned Williams for what he called “minimizing the lie” in his apology.

“Minimization and lying are the characteristics of a deviant behavior and are typically signs of guilt,” he said.


Media critics are also unimpressed with Williams’ odd explanation of how he came to “misremember” coming under fire in Iraq. Lloyd Grove recalls Hillary Clinton’s “Tuzla Dash” fabulism, but says recovery for a high-profile news anchor will be much more difficult:

Williams’s claim to have been under fire recalls 2008 presidential candidate Hillary Clinton’s false assertion that, as first lady in March 1996, she came under sniper fire during a trip to Tuzla, Bosnia. “I remember landing under sniper fire,” Clinton said during a speech. “There was supposed to be some kind of a greeting ceremony at the airport, but instead we just ran with our heads down to get into the vehicles to get to our base.” CBS News video of Clinton’s arrival showed no such thing; instead she alighted on the tarmac and greeted a welcoming child who offered her a poem.

Needless to say, the standards of veracity and accuracy demanded of a network news anchorman are much higher than those expected of a politician. Clinton ended up in a world of hurt for her Bosnia fabrication, and Williams, at least for the near future, might suffer a similar hard landing.

“The actual lie is a trivial one,” Tyndall said, noting that it has zero public policy or political implications. “But the motive for the lie is really damning. Telling fibs to make yourself seem braver than you are? Why would you do that? The actual consequences of the lie are minimal, but the moral problems the lie raises are massive.”

Tyndall, however, said Williams can recover, “but it all depends on how much is mobilized against him and how contrite and forthcoming he is in response to it. This is not fatal, but it’s really bad.”


Howard Kurtz calls Williams’ lie “inexplicable,” while Megyn Kelly argues that it might just have been a mistake. Kurtz doesn’t buy it, asking at one point, “Come on. If your helicopter was shot down, that’s a life-changing event. It either happened or it didn’t happen.” Kurtz declares, “It’s a major blow to his credibility — and that of his network.”

This conversation took place last night, while events were still unfolding. Kelly might not have been quite so sympathetic had she watched the conversation that took place on Late Night with David Letterman in 2013, when Williams embellished the story with all sorts of detail about the attack. I linked it last night, and so did Washington Post media critic Erik Wemple:

Listen to what Williams told David Letterman in this appearance on the “Late Show” upon the 10th anniversary of his helicopter troubles: “We were in some helicopters. What we didn’t know was, we were north of the invasion. We were the northernmost Americans in Iraq. We were going to drop some bridge portions across the Euphrates so the Third Infantry could cross on them. Two of the four helicopters were hit, by ground fire, including the one I was in, RPG and AK-47.”

What’s so remarkable about this appearance, in light of today’s revelations, is just how insistent Williams appears upon recounting this fictional event. “I brought a photo which arrived in my e-mail two mornings ago of where I was tonight a decade ago…this very day,” he told Letterman, kicking off the helicopter discussion.

“I have to treat you now with renewed respect,” summed up Letterman.


It’s worse than even that, as Twitchy’s partial transcript shows:

“Two of our four helicopters were hit by ground fire, including the one I was in.”

“No kidding!”

“RPG and AK-47.”

“What altitudes were you hit at?”

“We were only at a hundred feet doing a hundred forward knots because we had these massive pieces of bridge beneath us on slings.”

“What happens the minute everybody realizes you’ve been hit?”

“Uh, we figure out how to land safely, and we did. We landed very quickly and hard and we put down and we were stuck. Four birds in the middle of the desert, and we were north out ahead of the other Americans.”

“Oh my. So as a guy, as a journalist, what do you think? ‘This is a great position to be in,’ or ‘Holy crap, I gotta get outta here”?

“I, uh, more toward the “holy crap.”

Wemple also sounds skeptical about the admission and apology:

That’s a very nice admission, though “conflating” the experience of taking incoming fire with the experience of not taking incoming fire seems verily impossible.

It’s a jaw-dropping performance by someone claiming to be a credible reporter of the news, in retrospect. It also sustains Kurtz’ conclusion that this isn’t just a case of a faulty memory, but much closer to an episode with a fabulist.

So … is his career over? Naaaah.  Jim Geraghty says that he can’t wait to see how NBC News covers up for Williams — and make no mistake, that’s what they will do:


I wonder how the newsroom Williams is supposed to be leading will look at him tomorrow morning when he arrives for work.

I can’t wait to see how the feckless NBC News handles this nightmare.

Here’s the thing: NBC News employed Chelsea Clinton under that ridiculous contract, and MSNBC keeps Al Sharpton around (allegedly to keep him happy with corporate parent ComCast), has a correspondent that accused “American Sniper” Chris Kyle of going on “killing sprees”,  has guest commentator claim Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal is “trying to wash that brown off his skin”, has a host wearing tampon earrings,  and gave a weekend show to Hillary Clinton’s former deputy press secretary.

How much more credibility is there to lose?

Brian Williams just signed a contract extension, believed to be $10 million per year, and the president of the network declared, “Brian is one of the most trusted journalists of our time.” His daughter is in HBO’s “Girls” and played Peter Pan for NBC. He and the network are tied at the hip, and he’s media royalty. The network is going to rap him on the knuckles and then declare the matter resolved, and the rest of the media world – yes, the largely center-Left or outright progressive-Left world – will avert their eyes. The New York Times puts this story on page B10 this morning.

The wagons, they are a-circling. Williams should get fired, at least as managing editor for NBC News if not as anchor, but Jim is likely correct in his prediction. Don’t expect much more than a public scolding, followed by some self-deprecating prime-time appearances for Williams to show how humble and contrite he’s been. That is, unless more evidence of fabulism arises. Stay tuned … just not at NBC.


Update: In a new post today, Erik Wemple indicts the entire NBC News organization:

Why did it take pushback from “some brave men and women in the air crews,” however? Do these folks have to fight our wars and fact-check NBC News?

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.

Also in March 2013, Williams told Alec Baldwin in an interview on WNYC’s “Here’s The Thing.” Speaking of his tendency to say “I’ve got this” in sticky situations, he said, “And I’ve done some ridiculously stupid things under that banner, like being in a helicopter I had no business being in in Iraq with rounds coming into the airframe,” Williams said.

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?


Good questions — and so far, Wemple hasn’t received any answers from NBC News.

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