Brian Williams is not long for the NBC anchor chair. The network has initiated two different investigations into some of the claims made on air by Williams over the past years.
One investigation, headed up by Richard Esposito, chief of the network’s investigative reporting unit, will look at the journalist’s claims of being shot down in Iraq in 2003. And there will be a task force that examines other statements made on air by Williams that have been called into question since he admitted “misremembering” what happened in Iraq.
The scandal has left the reporters and producers who work with Williams “shocked, furious and sad.” And they fear that the reputation of an anchor many considered “the most trusted name in news” has been wrecked, the sources said.
“Williams has no friends at the network,” one source said. “He has no one defending him. There’s so much internal anger at NBC over what he has done and how it all went done.”
Williams made no mention of the swirling controversy in his Friday newscast and sources said he continues to man the chair because NBC has not groomed anyone to succeed him.
Lester Holt is considered “more of a cable guy,” they said. And the other option would be replacing him on an interim basis with “Today” show hosts Matt Lauer or Savannah Guthrie.
n a statement released Friday after The News broke the story about the investigation, NBC News honcho Deborah Turness said Williams has apologized again to staffers and “specifically expressed how sorry he is for the impact this has had on all of you and on this proud organization.”
While Turness appears to be standing behind the $10 million-a-year star, media watchers said it could be anchor away if the fibbing fallout continues to tarnish the company brand.
“This could be a career-killer for him,” said Michael Harrison, editor of Talkers magazine, which covers the news media and talk radio. “Here’s another highly exalted public figure being brought down and exposed as human.”
This goes beyond just Williams’ fables about his experience in the Iraq War. The New Orleans Advocate is reporting on some of the statements made by Williams over the years about what conditions were like during Hurrican Katrina — including his contention that he got dysentery from accidentally ingesting flood waters and that gangs overran his hotel.
The latest questions surround Williams’ story of rescuing one or two puppies from a burning house when he was serving as a volunteer firefighter in his youth:
As attention now centers on the many things Brian Williams has reported over his years at NBC, a new story just emerged that stretches the bounds of believability. Writing in USA Today in 2011, the anchor of “Nightly News,” talked about his days as a volunteer firefighter in New Jersey. And shares one episode of modest heroism:
My firehouse was a modest engine company — three engines, three garage doors and about 30 of the best men I’ve ever known. We fought all the usual fires that break out in the suburbs: brush fires, car fires, dumpsters, dryers, light fixtures — and worst of all, the occasional house, already in flames when we arrived. I remember one such house fire — the structure was fully involved with flames and smoke. I was wearing a breathing apparatus, conducting a search on my hands and knees, when I felt something warm, squishy and furry on the floor of a closet. I instinctively tucked it in my coat. When I got outside, I saw two small eyes staring up at me, and I returned the 3-week-old (and very scared) puppy to its grateful owners.
Is that standard protocol for firefighters? To just aimlessly crawl around the floor of a home burning up in flames, in the off-chance you might stumble upon something? He “instinctively” grabbed the “warm, squishy and furry” object despite not knowing what it was?
Even more curious is his earlier version of this same story. Talking to Esquire in 2005, Williams boasted, “All I ever did as a volunteer fireman was once save two puppies.” Note that he didn’t say “save two puppies,” which could have meant saving an individual puppy on two occasions. He clearly says this happened “once.”
Which has us wondering if it ever happened at all.
How heroic! Too bad he can’t keep his story straight.
We all embellish or exaggerate stories we tell. But Williams has to be cognizant of his unique — and highly paid — role as a public figure. He can’t have been oblivious to the impact these falsehoods would have on his reputation as a trusted newsman. In his supreme arrogance, he apparently just didn’t care.