Anchor Brian Williams’ Self-Serving “Exaggerations” Well Known at NBC News


Anchors Aweigh

Brian Williams of “NBC Nightly News,” reporting from Camp Liberty in Baghdad in 2007. His acknowledgement that he embellished a war story from 2003 made him part of the news last week. Credit Jeff Riggins/NBC, via Getty Images

by columnist , New York Times Sunday Review   Feb. 8 2015

WASHINGTON — THIS was a bomb that had been ticking for a while.

NBC executives were warned a year ago that Brian Williams was constantly inflating his biography. They were flummoxed over why the leading network anchor felt that he needed Hemingwayesque, bullets-whizzing-by flourishes to puff himself up, sometimes to the point where it was a joke in the news division.

But the caustic media big shots who once roamed the land were gone, and “there was no one around to pull his chain when he got too over-the-top,” as one NBC News reporter put it.

It seemed pathological because Williams already had the premier job, so why engage in résumé inflation? And you don’t get those jobs because of your derring-do.

When Williams was declared the hair apparent to Tom Brokaw in 1995, hailed by Jay Leno as “NBC’s stud muffin,” I did a column wondering why TV news programs only hired pretty white male clones. I asked Williams if he was an anchor android.

“Not that I’m aware of,” he said gamely, in his anchor-desk baritone. “I can deny the existence of a factory in the American Midwest that puts out people like me.”

Williams told friends last week that he felt anguished, coming under fire for his false story of coming under fire.

Although the NBC anchor had repeated the Iraq war tall tale, ever more baroquely, for more than a decade, when he cited it on his Jan. 30 broadcast during a segment about going to a Rangers game with a retired, decorated soldier who had been on the ground that day when he landed, Williams got smacked down on Facebook.

A crew member from a Chinook flying ahead of Williams, who was involved in the 2003 firefight, posted, “Sorry dude, I don’t remember you being on my aircraft. I do remember you walking up about an hour after we had landed to ask me what had happened.” Stars and Stripes ran with it, and, by Saturday, Williams announced that he was stepping down for several days.

Social media — the genre that helped make the TV evening news irrelevant by showing us that we don’t need someone to tell us every night what happened that day — was gutting the institution further.

Although Williams’s determination to wrap himself in others’ valor is indefensible, it seems almost redundant to gnaw on his bones, given the fact that the Internet has already taken down a much larger target: the long-ingrained automatic impulse to turn on the TV when news happens.



  1. Well, he’s now out for six months according to this release:

    From: “Deborah Turness (NBCUniversal)”
    Date: Tue, Feb 10, 2015 at 4:48 PM -0800
    Subject: Brian Williams
    To: “@NBC Uni NBC News All”


    We have decided today to suspend Brian Williams as Managing Editor and Anchor of NBC Nightly News for six months. The suspension will be without pay and is effective immediately. We let Brian know of our decision earlier today. Lester Holt will continue to substitute Anchor the NBC Nightly News.

    Our review, which is being led by Richard Esposito working closely with NBCUniversal General Counsel Kim Harris, is ongoing, but I think it is important to take you through our thought process in coming to this decision.

    While on Nightly News on Friday, January 30, 2015, Brian misrepresented events which occurred while he was covering the Iraq War in 2003. It then became clear that on other occasions Brian had done the same while telling that story in other venues. This was wrong and completely inappropriate for someone in Brian’s position.

    In addition, we have concerns about comments that occurred outside NBC News while Brian was talking about his experiences in the field.

    As Managing Editor and Anchor of Nightly News, Brian has a responsibility to be truthful and to uphold the high standards of the news division at all times.

    Steve Burke, Pat Fili and I came to this decision together. We felt it would have been wrong to disregard the good work Brian has done and the special relationship he has forged with our viewers over 22 years. Millions of Americans have turned to him every day, and he has been an important and well-respected part of our organization.

    As I’m sure you understand, this was a very hard decision. Certainly there will be those who disagree. But we believe this suspension is the appropriate and proportionate action.

    This has been a difficult time. But NBC News is bigger than this moment. You work so hard and dedicate yourselves each and every day to the important work of bringing trusted, credible news to our audience. Because of you, your loyalty, your dedication, NBC News is an organization we can – and should – all be proud of. We will get through this together.

    Steve Burke asked me to share the following message.

    “This has been a painful period for all concerned and we appreciate your patience while we gathered the available facts. By his actions, Brian has jeopardized the trust millions of Americans place in NBC News. His actions are inexcusable and this suspension is severe and appropriate. Brian’s life’s work is delivering the news. I know Brian loves his country, NBC News and his colleagues. He deserves a second chance and we are rooting for him. Brian has shared his deep remorse with me and he is committed to winning back everyone’s trust.”



Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here