From all the reports flying around, it seems as though former NBC anchor Tom Brokaw is now the elder statesman of the news division, and he is not at all happy with the fact that his predecessor, Brian Williams, has been caught red-handed in a serial stolen valor lie. That relationship is almost certain to turn even more toxic if it’s discovered that Brian Williams looked Tom Brokaw in the eye and lied.
According to numerous witnesses and Williams’ own conflicting statements, that might be exactly what happened last year when Brokaw interviewed Williams at the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism about the younger man’s experiences covering Hurricane Katrina in 2005.
Three dramatic anecdotes Williams shared with Brokaw during that interview have either been challenged by eyewitnesses or contradicted by Williams himself.
1. “All of us watched [in the Superdome] as one man committed suicide.”
In a 2005 documentary, Williams said this of a Superdome suicide: ““We’d heard the story of a man killing himself, falling from the upper deck[.]”
By 2014, the hearing of the suicide appears to have evolved into witnessing the suicide.
2. “My week, two weeks there was not helped by the fact that I accidentally ingested some of the floodwater. I became very sick with dysentery.”
A spokeswoman from the Louisiana Department of Health and Hospitals said dysentery is not one of the reportable diseases the agency tracks but that contaminated water sources are possible “transmission points” for dysentery.
Former FEMA director Michael Brown:
Brown said that he has “never heard, never heard, of dysentery in Hurricane Katrina, anywhere. Biloxi [Mississippi] all the way to the Texas border, I never heard of one case of dysentery.”
“If you truly have dysentery, you’re not standing up in front of a camera, in front of national news people, giving a report and then going back and sitting on the commode or hunched in your bed for the next five hours and then get up and do it again,” he told the Times. “If you truly have dysentery, you’re down and out.”
The then-manager of the hotel Williams stayed at in New Orleans:
He may have simply misremembered. But I can tell you no one broke out in the hotel with dysentery.
3. “Our hotel was overrun with gangs. I was rescued in the stairwell of a five-star hotel in New Orleans by a young police officer – we are friends to this day.”
The misremembering of gangs overrunning the Ritz has so far been contradicted by every witness that has come forward, including the then-manager of the hotel:
“There absolutely was looting in the French Quarter,” DeGersdorff recalled. “But I wouldn’t say they were gangs. … They were primarily individual looters or two or three buddies attempting to break into camera stores; it was unpleasant.” She said that “on more than one occasion,” the looters tried to get inside the hotel. At one point, they did “breach a door” but were “immediately” chased out. There were “maybe one or two of them,” she said. …
“None of the guests were in danger of being harmed,” she said. “And none were.”
More via the Washington Post:
[A] man named Richard Rhodes who stayed at the Ritz as well said he didn’t remember any gangs, telling the New Orleans Advocate that Williams had exaggerated. The hotel had allowed employee families to bunker down. “There was a kind of criminal element that had gotten in, and somebody had worked there and they brought their family,” Rhodes told the paper. “They were leaving the doors open, and other people were trying to come. Two off-duty police officers were running around keeping the peace. There were scary moments, but criminal gangs? That’s crazy.”
A local activist named Leo Watermeier said much the same to the Guardian. He said there weren’t any gangs. “People were afraid that was the case,” he said. “I don’t think that really was the situation. Once darkness came, that was frightening. Just because it was pitch-black. And you felt vulnerable. … But I didn’t see anything.
One of the emerging defenses coming from Williams’ few remaining defenders is that he told most of his apparent Tall Tales everywhere but on the NBC News. That’s mostly but not entirely true. Regardless, is it really a mitigating factor if it’s discovered Williams lied to other reporters, historians like Douglas Brinkley, and Tom Brokaw?
Oh, and Tim Russert?
Follow John Nolte on Twitter @NolteNC