Brian Williams, trusted face of US television news, in trouble over made up war stories

Daily News Article   —   Posted on February 9, 2015

brian-williams
(by Peter Foster, Daily Telegraph) Washington, DC — He was the most trusted face on American television, a…newsman in the Olympian tradition of Walter Cronkite and Dan Rather, but after being caught lying about his role covering the Iraq War, the 20-year career of Brian Williams from NBC’s Nightly News now looks to be in ruins.

His problems began earlier this week when Mr. Williams paid tribute to a group of US veterans by retelling the story of how his helicopter “was forced down after being hit by an RPG” during the 2003 Iraq War, leaving him and his film crew stranded in the desert for two long, scary nights.

The story, while gripping enough, had just one flaw; it wasn’t true.

Williams had in fact been travelling in a helicopter some 30 minutes behind the one that was shot down, as several indignant veterans told Stars and Stripes, the US forces’ newspaper, although he did spend two nights in the desert.

“The NBC anchor was nowhere near that aircraft or two other Chinooks flying in the formation that took fire,” the paper reported, quoting crew members from the 159th Aviation Regiment who were flying the helicopters.

Now truly under fire, Williams scrambled to apologize – admitting on air that he had erroneously “conflated” and “misremembered” the incident, but only dug himself further into trouble as it emerged that the 55-year-old newsman had been “misremembering” for some time.

A chronological analysis of his retelling of the story over the years showed that Williams had been gradually embellishing the tale to the point where, in 2013, he told late night TV host David Letterman that “two of our four helicopters were hit by groundfire, including the one I was in.”

Pundits from across the US media are now openly questioning whether Williams can survive the embarrassment with his credibility in tact.

As the story spread, he was being mercilessly mocked on social media, with Twitter and Facebook posts showing him “reporting live” everywhere from the beaches of Normandy to the surface of the moon.

“Journalists are paid to be more vigilant than civilians about the stories they tell. Millions listen to Williams because he’s sold himself as a truth-teller, not a fabulist,” wrote Jack Shafer of Politico in one of several articles that asked if Williams could ever be trusted again.

Although NBC was reported to be standing by Williams, fresh revelations on Friday about his tendency to embellish – this time about his award-winning coverage of Hurricane Katrina – were intensifying pressure on the $10 million-a-year anchor whose Nightly News program is the top-rated news show in America.

Recalling the hurricane that left much of New Orleans inundated, Williams said in 2006 that he had looked out of the window of his French Quarter hotel and seen “a man float by face down” just like he’d seen the previous year in Banda Aceh, Indonesia, while covering the 2004 tsunami.

He added in another intensely self-regarding interview that “I became very sick with dysentery” from accidentally ingesting the floodwaters, while his hotel “was overrun with gangs” and he was “rescued in the stairwell of a five-star hotel in New Orleans by a young police officer.”

The veracity [truthfulness; accuracy] of these stories was challenged by The New Orleans Advocate, one of Louisiana’s oldest newspapers, who pointed out that the French Quarter was never under water and quoted local medical officials saying there were no recorded cases of dysentery.

“I don’t know anybody that’s tried [drinking the floodwaters],” Dr. Brobson Lutz, a former city health director who manned the emergency station near Williams’s hotel told the Advocate, “but my dogs drank it, and they didn’t have any problems.”

The latest story only fuelled the speculation that Williams would have to resign, with New York Daily News among several outlets to opine that: “The flood waters are rising on Brian Williams’s career.”

Reprinted here from London’s Daily Telegraph for educational purposes only.  May not be reproduced on other websites without permission from the Daily Telegraph.

Questions

1. Who is Brian Williams?

2. a) Define credibility.
b) What story has Brian Williams been telling for over 10 years about his Iraq war coverage that has brought his credibility into question?

3. a) Who recently refuted Mr. Willimas’ version of this event?
b) How did he initially respond to the criticisms of his story?

4. a) Define “misremembered.”
b) What do you think about this explanation and the choice of words Mr. Williams used to acknowledge his misrepresentation of the facts?

5. After this story was published, what claims made by Mr. Williams were questioned/challenged by the New Orleans Advocate?

6. On Saturday, Mr. Williams sent a note to the staff of the Nightly News saying he was taking a brief leave. He wrote: “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.
“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.”

Read the “Background” below the questions.
“Journalists are paid to be more vigilant than civilians about the stories they tell. Millions listen to Williams because he’s sold himself as a truth-teller, not a fabulist,” wrote Jack Shafer of Politico in one of several articles that asked if Williams could ever be trusted again.
Some people are calling for his resignation or that he be fired. Some people would argue that “everybody lies.”

Do you think NBC should fire Brian Williams?  Explain your answer.


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Background

USA Today reported on Sunday:

The Iraq War chopper pilot whose aircraft flew ahead of the one Brian Williams rode in says he contacted NBC a decade ago about inaccuracies in Williams’ accounts of the episode.

Don Helus told CNN’s Reliable Sources on Sunday that the helicopter he piloted in 2003 was hit by a rocket-propelled grenade. Williams was not on the flight, he said.

When Helus returned to Kuwait for repairs on his chopper, he saw an MSNBC video interview with Williams in which the newsman said the chopper he had been in had been hit by a RPG.

Helus told Reliable Sources host Brian Stelter that he contacted MSNBC, which then was NBC’s main Web presence, “just to alert them that the facts were incorrect,” Helus said. “Mr. Williams was not part of our flights. He was in a different flight.”

Helus said he never heard back from MSNBC or NBC.

And from a Feb. 8 report at YahooNews:

Lt. Gen. Russel L. Honoré told CNN’s “Reliable Sources” on Sunday that the flooding around Williams’ hotel — the Ritz-Carlton — at the time the NBC News anchor said he saw the body float by would likely not have been high enough, as there was relatively little flooding in the French Quarter, the area where Williams was staying.

“It would be very suspect,” Honoré said. “But anything’s possible.”

Honoré said while it was possible Williams saw a dead body float by, it was unlikely because the water was “well below knee level around the Ritz-Carlton.”

The retired general also said if Williams did see a dead body, he should’ve reported it to authorities or tried to help the victim.

“If he was a newsman and saw a body floating by his hotel, why didn’t he go grab it? Why didn’t he get somebody and report it?” Honoré wondered. “Either report it — which you’re supposed to do — or as a human being go out and try to assist that person or get somebody.”

Williams also said his hotel was “overrun with gangs,” an assertion Honoré said was never corroborated.