Is NBC Nightly News Anchor Brian Williams Career Over?
It is the lie that looks increasingly likely to end the career of one of America’s most respected news men.
NBC Nightly News anchor Brian Williams this morning released a statement saying he would take temporary leave from his daily broadcast because “it has become painfully apparent to me that I am presently too much a part of the news”.
Williams, a journalist since 1981, admitted during a broadcast last week that he lied about taking fire in a helicopter while covering a story in Iraq in 2003.
“I made a mistake in recalling the events of 12 years ago … I want to apologise. I said I was travelling in an aircraft that was hit by RPG fire. I was instead in a following aircraft,” he said.
Sorry or not, the internet wasn’t about to let the newsman off the hook, and in the hours that followed, the #BrianWilliamsMisremembers meme took flight.
Williams has covered the some of the world’s biggest stories, reporting on Hurricane Katrina from New Orleans, taking an African road trip with U2 frontman Bono and embedding with US troops in Afghanistan. He has interviewed everyone from Chelsea Clinton to Edward Snowden.
But his most compelling story — and the one he told the most often — was about getting shot down in a military helicopter in Iraq.
“The story actually started with a terrible moment a dozen years back during the invasion of Iraq when the helicopter we were travelling in was forced down after being hit by (a rocket-propelled grenade),” Williams said, launching into his signature story last Friday.
“Our travelling NBC News team was rescued, surrounded and kept alive by an armour mechanised platoon from the U.S. Army 3rd Infantry.”
But military newspaper Stars & Stripes tracked down the crew from the downed helicopter, only to discover their recollection of events was not the same as that of Williams.
The newspaper confronted the newsman, who quickly admitted to the “mistake” and apologised.
“I would not have chosen to make this mistake,” he told Stars & Stripes.
“I don’t know what screwed up in my mind that caused me to conflate one aircraft with another. We never came under direct enemy fire to the aircraft.”
The reaction from the public forced the 55-year-old to issue a statement.
“In the midst of a career spent covering and consuming news, it has become painfully apparent to me that I am presently too much a part of the news, due to my actions,” he said.
“As Managing Editor of NBC Nightly News, I have decided to take myself off of my daily broadcast for the next several days, and Lester Holt has kindly agreed to sit in for me to allow us to adequately deal with this issue. Upon my return, I will continue my career-long effort to be worthy of the trust of those who place their trust in us.”
Compounding the problem for Williams and the network is the accusation that the Iraq lie may not have been his only lie.
Williams claimed to have gotten dysentery from drinking flood water and seeing dead bodies float past his hotel in the New Orleans French Quarter while covering Hurricane Katrina in 2005.
However the The New Orleans Advocate noted that the French Quarter was not flooded and quoted a local health expert who did not recall anyone getting such a stomach ailment.