Following Brian Williams’ admission that a story he had been telling for years involving a helicopter in which he was riding over Baghdad in 2003 being struck by a rocket-propelled grenade was mostly fabricated, Williams found that he had few defenders outside of NBC News.
There was one prominent fabulist that backed up Williams, a man who found himself run out of a nightly newscast on a rail after repeatedly reporting a story that was proven inaccurate: Dan Rather. It was as dubious endorsement and one in which Williams’ contemporaries who also sat in network news desks in past decades do not seem eager to join.
According to a report via The New York Post’s Page Six (hat tip to Jammie Wearing Fools), Williams’ predecessor, Tom Brokaw, thinks that it is in the best interest of both NBC and the Nightly News for the network to jettison Williams.
“Brokaw wants Williams’ head on a platter,” an NBC source said. “He is making a lot of noise at NBC that a lesser journalist or producer would have been immediately fired or suspended for a false report.”
“Tom Brokaw and [former NBC News President] Steve Capus knew this was a false story for a long time and have been extremely uncomfortable with it,” the source said.
“NBC bosses don’t understand how serious this is. Nobody in a leadership position is talking to the troops. Nobody has addressed it,” the source said.
Brokaw is right. This is a credibility-shredding debacle that would result in the firing of a lesser figure. It seems, however, that Williams is secure in his position despite admitting he had embellished his story. The Post reported that NBC News executive are standing behind Williams, and he will not face any form of punishment – let alone dismissal – as a result of this episode.
The Washington Post confirms The New York Post’s reporting.
This executive, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because she was not authorized to comment on behalf of the network, said NBC News’s top managers were surprised to learn that Williams’s story was in error after he posted an apology to several service members on NBC News’s Facebook page over the weekend. The executive said that an informal inquiry probably will be carried out, but the working assumption was that Williams had made “an honest mistake, which he’s now apologized for.”
Surely, Brokaw has his legacy and the institution he helped built to think about. He’s probably not especially thrilled by the prospect that Williams’ inflated tale will likely shadow him and the news team he leads for the rest of his tenure as NBC’s lead anchor. There are, however, enough conflicting accounts of whether or not Williams’ helicopter came under some fire (small arms, not an RPG) that it may never be definitively known whether Williams intentionally lied or simply incorrectly recalled his experiences in Iraq in 2003.
If ambiguity prevails, NBC will look prescient when this controversy eventually fades and Williams continues to draw the highest ratings of any network news personality. While it will remain a stain on the reputation of the network that he helped build, Brokaw probably won’t see any penalty applied to his successor a result of his decade-long lapse in judgment.
UPDATE: Brokaw contends that The Post’s source is just making stuff up.
“I have neither demanded nor suggested Brian be fired,” Brokaw said in an email to The Huffington Post. “His future is up to Brian and NBC News executives.”