NBC Silently Stands Behind Anchor Brian Williams Over Helicopter Lies

REUTERS/Lucas Jackson
REUTERS/Lucas Jackson
New York, NY

Despite an admission by NBC News’ Brian Williams that for the last 12 years he has repeatedly and falsely claimed that he was in a helicopter that was hit by an enemy RPG in a war zone in Iraq, NBC executives are still standing behind their nightly news anchor.

On Wednesday, Williams, who has been the chief anchor of NBC Nightly News since 2004, was forced to admit to his audience that he had “misremembered” the facts of the helicopter incident that he claimed he was involved in during an assignment in Iraq in 2003.

Williams has been telling the story for years to anyone who would listen. In one case two years ago, for instance, he recounted his harrowing tale on the David Letterman show, prompting an admiring Letterman to gush that he had gained a “whole new respect” for Williams.

But this week the U.S. soldiers who were really in the downed helicopter had finally had enough of Williams’ attempt at “stolen valor” and called him out on his deception.

In real life, it appears that Williams was in a wholly separate aircraft that was at least an hour away from the downed copter and had only heard second hand about what happened. He apparently didn’t experience the incident personally. Facts have emerged since Wednesday that seem to indicate that the anchor left out key facts in his apology and in his many tellings and re-tellings of the tall tale which he seems to have embellished more with each telling.

The anchor has endured much criticism in the days since his admission. In one instance, Fox News Media Analyst and Mediabuzz host Howard Kurtz declared that Williams’ admission was a “major blow to his credibility and that of his network.” Kurtz predicted “tremendous fallout” from Williams’ long-time lie.

Thus far, though, that fallout has yet to occur, and news from sources inside NBC indicate that executives are standing by their anchor.

As the Washington Post noted on Thursday, by making no public statement on the incident, NBC has essentially–if perhaps only tacitly–decided to stand by their man.

Insiders are also reporting that Williams’ bosses seem inclined to stand by him quietly and privately. One executive, who said she wanted to remain anonymous, told the paper that Williams made “an honest mistake, which he’s now apologized for.”

But not everyone is sold on Williams inside NBC. The Post also found sources that outed Williams overly bombastic and being “off-putting” and having unjustified “swagger” in personal interactions. “One former colleague said he enjoys throwing around military slang, such as using ‘bird’ for helicopter, despite never having served in the armed forces. He also likes to discuss the nuances of firefighting,” the paper reported.

Some of the support Williams is getting from executives may stem from the fact that he only just signed his newest $10 million-per-year, five-year contract last December.

In any case, the anchor’s superiors are not ready to punish him just yet. The unnamed executive said that ultimately, “You could say it’s business as usual. He has the whole support of NBC.”

Follow Warner Todd Huston on Twitter @warnerthuston or email the author at igcolonel@hotmail.com


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