It’s hard to watch this, but I’m getting the feeling — just a few days into a strange saga of “misremembrance” — that a highly visible TV news anchor may be on his way out.
NBC Nightly News anchor Brian Williams is still facing questions about a story he made up — or “misremembered,” as he described it — about an incident in Iraq in 2003. He had been saying for a dozen years that a helicopter in which he was a passenger had been shot down by rocket fire. It turns out the shoot-down with Williams aboard didn’t happen.
Williams reported the other day about how an Army command sergeant major had helped rescue him and his fellow passengers after their ship was shot down. The report got a lot of play and Williams stood and accepted the cheers at Madison Square Garden alongside retired Sgt. Maj. Tim Terpak, the young man who engineered the rescue. Other veterans, though, spoke up and said the incident Williams described didn’t happen the way he described it; they said Williams wasn’t aboard the stricken Chinook helicopter.
Now comes word that Williams might have fabricated what he saw in New Orleans while covering the Hurricane Katrina disaster in 2005. Williams reported serious flooding in the French Quarter. To borrow a phrase: oops! The French Quarter largely escaped the floodwaters that devastated much of the Big Easy.
NBC News has announced it is launching an internal investigation into what Williams said and did in Iraq and in New Orleans.
Williams has traded on the trust he has built with news watchers over many years in the anchor’s chair.
It’s difficult to imagine how a viewer of the NBC newscast each night can trust Williams now with telling us the truth about what he is reporting from the anchor’s chair.
What’s more, his apology has seemed somewhat muted, as he’s sought to wrap himself in the flag. Consider this from USA Today: “On air Wednesday night, Williams said he had ‘made a mistake in recalling the events of 12 years ago,’ that the whole incident was simply ‘a bungled attempt by me to thank one special veteran and by extension our brave military men and women, veterans everywhere, those who have served everywhere while I did not.'”
From where I am sitting, that looks and sound a bit like spin.
NBC’s main anchorman is facing a steep climb back to respectability.