The Campaign Spot

Brian Williams’s Reputation Shot Down, Severely Damaged

From the Thursday edition of the Morning Jolt:

NBC News President in December: ‘Brian [Williams] is One of the Most Trusted Journalists of Our Time’

Okay, he remembered it wrong. What happened was that Brian Williams’s reputation was severely damaged and shot down.

NBC Nightly News anchor Brian Williams admitted Wednesday he was not aboard a helicopter hit and forced down by RPG fire during the invasion of Iraq in 2003, a false claim that has been repeated by the network for years.

Williams repeated the claim Friday during NBC’s coverage of a public tribute at a New York Rangers hockey game for a retired soldier that had provided ground security for the grounded helicopters, a game to which Williams accompanied him. In an interview with Stars and Stripes, he said he had misremembered the events and was sorry.

The admission came after crew members on the 159th Aviation Regiment’s Chinook that was hit by two rockets and small arms fire told Stars and Stripes that the NBC anchor was nowhere near that aircraft or two other Chinooks flying in the formation that took fire. Williams arrived in the area about an hour later on another helicopter after the other three had made an emergency landing, the crew members said.

“I would not have chosen to make this mistake,” Williams said. “I don’t know what screwed up in my mind that caused me to conflate one aircraft with another.”

Williams told his Nightly News audience that the erroneous claim was part of a “bungled attempt” to thank soldiers who helped protect him in Iraq in 2003. “I made a mistake in recalling the events of 12 years ago,” Williams said. “I want to apologize.”

As many people observed, it’s easy to “conflate” small details of long-ago events. It is just about impossible to believe Williams accidentally mixed up whether he was on the helicopter that got shot down, or one that hadn’t.

Erik Wemple spotlights Williams telling David Letterman a version of the tale that is . . . painful to listen to, in light of what we know:

Listen to what Williams told David Letterman in this appearance on the “Late Show” upon the 10th anniversary of his helicopter troubles: “We were in some helicopters. What we didn’t know was, we were north of the invasion. We were the northernmost Americans in Iraq. We were going to drop some bridge portions across the Euphrates so the Third Infantry could cross on them. Two of the four helicopters were hit, by ground fire, including the one I was in, RPG and AK-47.”

What’s so remarkable about this appearance, in light of today’s revelations, is just how insistent Williams appears upon recounting this fictional event. “I brought a photo which arrived in my e-mail two mornings ago of where I was tonight a decade ago . . . this very day,” he told Letterman, kicking off the helicopter discussion.

Before telling Letterman the helicopter story, Williams makes the caveat that he’s not much of a war correspondent. He cites NBC News foreign correspondent Richard Engel as the kind of reporter who calls a day where he’s shot at “Tuesday.” There’s your motive, for anyone trying to understand why he would do this. He’s an anchor, sitting behind a desk most nights in New York City. It is embarrassing for a man to not have any good war stories or stories of bravery. So Williams took the story of how he was about an hour away from life-and-death drama and changed it. Unfortunately for him, that’s also called “lying.”

Last night, Twitter was afire with speculation about the consequences. But my guess is that there won’t be serious consequences, any more than there was for Neil deGrasse Tyson making up quotes and attributing them to George W. Bush.

David Zurawik, probably one of the best media reporters and columnists in the business, makes the powerful case that Williams has to leave NBC News:

If credibility means anything to NBC News, Brian Williams will no longer be managing editor and anchor of the evening newscast by the end of the day Friday . . . 

Nowhere in his “admission” does Williams say what he actually did: lied. Instead he says something “screwed up” in his “mind.” And it “caused” him to “conflate one aircraft with another.”

And this guy is the face of your news division?

Really, if this was 10 or 15 years ago, an anchor at any network would be gone by Friday after an admission of such deception — especially when it is placed alongside the sacrifices made and pains suffered by military personnel and their families.

How could you expect anyone who served in the military to ever see this guy onscreen again and not feel contempt? How could you expect anyone to believe he or the broadcast he leads has any credibility?

I wonder how the newsroom Williams is supposed to be leading will look at him tomorrow morning when he arrives for work.

I can’t wait to see how the feckless NBC News handles this nightmare.

Here’s the thing: NBC News employed Chelsea Clinton under that ridiculous contract, and MSNBC keeps Al Sharpton around (allegedly to keep him happy with corporate parent ComCast), has a correspondent that accused “American Sniper” Chris Kyle of going on “killing sprees,” has guest commentator claim Louisiana governor Bobby Jindal is “trying to wash that brown off his skin,” has a host wearing tampon earrings, and gave a weekend show to Hillary Clinton’s former deputy press secretary.

How much more credibility is there to lose?

Brian Williams just signed a contract extension, believed to be $10 million per year, and the president of the network declared, “Brian is one of the most trusted journalists of our time.” His daughter is in HBO’s “Girls” and played Peter Pan for NBC. He and the network are tied at the hip, and he’s media royalty. The network is going to rap him on the knuckles and then declare the matter resolved, and the rest of the media world — yes, the largely center-Left or outright progressive-Left world — will avert their eyes. The New York Times puts this story on page B10 this morning.

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