Television

Brian Williams's Reputation Floating Face-First After Serial Humble-Bragging

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The Washington Post is doing unto Brian Williams's career what it did unto Rolling Stone's bogus reporting on an alleged University of Virginia gang-rape: fact-checking it into ribbons. As the rest of the media world does what NBC should have done a dozen years ago, a picture is emerging of a serial humble-bragger, constantly padding his resume by exaggerating the danger of his work while surfing on the heroism of others. It's an embarrassment to the profession, and a cautionary tale for news consumers.

We're already far afield from the original helicopter-under-fire-over-Iraq fabrication that sent the NBC anchor's reputation into a tailspin (though as press thinker Jay Rosen notes, while surveying the latest developments on that piece of the story, "the 'conflation' that Brian Williams described in his apology last week began with the first report in 2003, and built from there. Other NBC people were involved from the beginning").

Now the Post is two-fisting two other Williams shaggy-dog stories: another helicopter-under-fire tale, this time from Hezbollah over Israel in 2006; and a set of lurid post-facto Hurricane Katrina claims about the desperate conditions at the, uh, Ritz-Carlton.

On the Hezbollah front, Williams's original report for NBC stated that rockets had landed 1,500 feet below the helicopter he was flying in some 30 seconds prior to its arrival in that airspace, and that he could see another rocket launch into Israel from six miles away. Within months, this became a claim on The Daily Show that "rockets" were "passing underneath us, 1,500 feet beneath us." By this 2007 interview, "There were Katyusha rockets passing just beneath the helicopter I was riding in."

On Katrina, a whole suite of Williams claims is being dissected:

Among them: The one he told about witnessing a suicide at the Superdome. Or the one he told about watching a body float past the Ritz-Carlton, perched at the edge of an otherwise dry French Quarter. Or the one about the dysentery he said he got. And, finally, the story he told about the Ritz-Carlton gangs. Three separate individuals told reporters no gangs infiltrated the Ritz-Carlton.

The Post spends much of its energy investigating the mostly vaporware claims about the hotel being "overrun with gangs." But perhaps as damning, and certainly very telling, is the faux-heroism and purple prose with which Williams adorns his serial humble-bragging. The bolding here is mine:

The newsman made it back to the Ritz. Sickness was coming on hot. He was "fading in and out," he said. "Somebody left me on the stairway of the Ritz-Carlton in the dark on a mattress." Williams said he was delirious with fever and unable to eat.

But dangers beyond dysentery stalked the hotel. That same day, [Douglas] Brinkley wrote, "armed gangs had broken into the 527-room hotel, brandishing guns and terrorizing guests." He said he laid "eight or ten steps from the exit door. They were going to lock in or down the Ritz, shut it to keep the gangs out. Nobody was allowed out. No exceptions."

Somebody tried to push an IV on him, which Brinkley said he was "desperately in need of," but nobly declined. "There were so many ill people in line who needed it more than me," he said. "My conscience wouldn't have felt right if I had tried to pull rank. But I was in pure hell. I had no medicine, nothing."

He eventually made a break for it, "wading" out into what is described as "two feet of floodwater, barely able to stand." In front of the hotel, a violent confrontation loomed. "A gang was waiting on the streetcar tracks in front of the Ritz, ready go 'smash and grab,' as Williams put it, to take the vehicle." Some Louisiana National Guardsmen then materialized to confront the marauders and ensure the "NBC trio didn't get their escape vehicle hijacked. 'They aimed weapons at the men on the street,' Williams recalled. 'Then we were on our own.'" Somehow, Williams said he soldiered on, making all of his broadcasts.

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There's a disturbing and/or comical pattern to all these stories, including Williams's claims to have had a .38 caliber pistol pointed threateningly at his face while selling Christmas trees as a teenager in suburban New Jersey, and even his heartwarming tale of saving a puppy or two as a volunteer firefighter. The storytelling is thick with insider jargon to let you know that this millionaire anchor knows how our heroic everymen do their work (helicopters are always "birds," perps are gonna do the ol' "smash and grab," etc.). And the depictions are positively drenched with totally unconvincing protestations that it's really not about him, it's about our heroes, who he just happened to be right next to, during heroic moments.

Consider the sub-Hemingway prose in this Williams Esquire piece:

I was the only guy in the firehouse back in Jersey reading The New York Times. I won't tell you what the other publications in the back room were. About the last thing you're going to tell your buddy on Engine 210 is "You know, I'm going to try to be a network-television journalist someday." […]

All I have in common with the guys in that picture behind us is I've put on the gear. I would never rank myself any higher. […]

I would never, ever mention my name in the same sentence with a member of the FDNY. 

No, never, never.

As Jay Rosen has observed, these aren't one-off cases of accidental resume-padding; they have been pushcast by Williams and NBC as essential selling points to the highest-rated evening newscast on television. Consider that this false bravado is part of the standard Williams bio any time he delivers one of his minimum-$40,000 speeches:

He was the first NBC News correspondent to reach Baghdad during the 2003 war in Iraq, and was part of a U.S. Army helicopter mission that was forced down by enemy fire south of Najaf. He nonetheless has returned to Iraq several times, in addition to recent travels to Afghanistan and Iran.

You can find that now-discredited passage at the National Association of Broadcasters, the Pritzker Military Library, American Society of Magazine Editors, Peabody Awards, The Leary Firefighters Foundation, and on and on.

Why weren't Williams's own accomplishments sufficient for his sense of self-regard and NBC's need for promotional material? I suspect there will be a lot of people lying on that particular couch. For now, the case is a reminder of two cautionary principles: Never trust a one-tenth-of-one-percenter who expends that much energy claiming to be just one of the guys, and always remember that the reporter telling the loudest war stories at the bar is invariably the one most full of shit.

NEXT: Philly Cops Charged in Brutality Incident After Victim's Girlfriend Did Some Investigating of Her Own to Get Authorities Started

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  1. I thought is was Sauron that told him to take the fight to the enemy?

    1. never stop fighting til the fighting’s through

  2. One of us linked to that picture in another thread this morning.

    1. Elspeth Flashman|2.9.15 @ 9:23AM|#
      “Like this one: http://thecount.com/wp-content…..mes-20.jpg“

    2. That’s a hilarious pic:)

  3. I like that Williams and H Clinton can get together and swap war stories now.

    1. “We were fired upon. What difference, at this point, does it matter that it only happened in our heads?”

      1. Pity it didn’t happen THROUGH them.

      1. Excellent!

      2. The font is awful, but it’s funny.

  4. I have know idea who this guy is. Seems like a skeevy little liar, though.

    1. “no” idea. My John is showing.

  5. Honestly guys, this just feels like piling on. I mean, what’s the point of continuing to report on this story?

    /progderp

  6. and a set of lurid post-facto Hurricane Katrina claims about the desperate conditions at the, uh, Ritz-Carlton.

    Welch wouldn’t mock old Gil Gunderson Brian Williams if he was the one being shot at by Chris Kyle from his perch atop the Superdome!

    Dead bodies floating in dry streets, snipers drawing down on second-rate media personalities, amoebas in the Evian, your daughter getting her ass eaten out on a low-rated premium cable show–you people don’t know what it’s like to live the hard-knock life of Brian Williams!

    1. your daughter getting her ass eaten out on a low-rated premium cable show

      Speaking of which, is there any thought to having Kmele join Reason proper? The libertarian community sure could use some more, uh, diversity, and Williams and Sowell are getting old.

      1. Wait, why did Alison Williams getting her ass eaten out make you think of Kmele?

        1. In all honesty, it made me think of Rachel Maddow first, but Kmele was in the top 5.

          And turns out that watching Peter Pan getting rimmed was less appealing than I might have once imagined.

      2. Foster is too rich for any of this.

        1. just because *you’re* on a diet is no reason to insist that others deprive themselves.

    2. Damned funny, when I was in post-Katrina New Orleans (thank you dumbassed Brigade CDR for volunteering us, 4 months after getting home from Afghanistan….grrr!) I hardly remember seeing a soul.
      The French Quarter area was deserted…which was spooky in its own right.
      I did see some hotel security, however…
      http://www.miserabledonuts.blo…..52384.html

    3. To be fair, the last one actually happened.

  7. The Washington Post is doing onto Brian Williams’s career what it did onto Rolling Stone‘s bogus reporting on an alleged University of Virginia gang-rape: fact-checking it into ribbons.”

    Mr. Welch, I believe you mean “doing unto” with a u.

    1. Onto- as in “take a dump onto”.

    2. We don’t talk about Lucy.

    3. Thanks.

  8. What the fuck Reason? Where’s the love of alt text? Where is the love?

    1. Where is the love?

      Which is exactly the question Williams asked in his 1972 duet with Roberta Flack.

    2. I was in a godaawful hurry, sorry.

      1. that’s ok, we look forward to your story about how you and Brian Williams raised the flag at Iwo Jima.

        I mean, if it’s good enough for NBC…

        1. That was Tom Brokaw. Williams was in the last chopper off the roof of the Saigon embassy. Sheesh… Can’t you keep your generations straight?

    3. “Where’s the love of alt text? Where is the love?”

      baby, I can show you.
      oh, yeah…mmmmmm.

    4. That pic doesn’t need alt text.

  9. “It was then I decided that I should do the right thing. Next thing you know, Darth Vader is flying back to Coruscant and Luke blew up the Death Star. True story.”

  10. To leftists, lying is not only acceptable, but it’s desirable if it furthers the agenda. So I seriously doubt that any progressives think that this is an issue at all.

    1. Except these lies don’t further the agenda, so leftists have been attacking him.

      These lies just puff up Williams’ ego. It’s not like he’s lying on behalf of a cause.

      1. Well, he’s (was) on a leftist network, so it’s natural to assume…

        Has Shreeky said it’s a fake scandal, yet?

        1. His boss, Brian Roberts, is a big Democrat.

      2. Puffing up the resume of a Progressive Propagandist does serve their agenda.

        Or it did, until the lies were exposed.

        1. It’s difficult not to wonder what ole Brian really did to fall from grace. MSM newscasters are as immune from being called on their lies as are the prog pols they prop up.

      3. If he were Hillary it wouldn’t have mattered because her cause IS the liberal cause She is the successor to the golden one (Obama) and must be protected at all costs.

        Brian is just another useful idiot and can be easily disposed of and replaced by another pretty boy talking head.

    2. To leftists, lying is not only acceptable, but it’s desirable if it furthers the agenda.

      Don’t kid yourself, this has a long history among Christian conservatives as well, under doctrines of “mental reservation” and “equivocation”, etc.

      People who are convinced that their ideology holds the salvation for their fellow men aren’t going to be bothered by little details like truth and honesty, whether they are communists, fascists, or Christians.

      That’s why the oath of allegiance is sworn “without mental reservation”.

  11. Brian Williams girlfriend in Canada can totally vouch that all these stories are like, totally true.

  12. Brian Williams will always have Compton:

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=g87Xyt2agWQ

    (probably NSFW unless your boss is *really* cool, or you’re the boss yourself, or you’re working at home)

  13. Is it possible that nobody caught on to this because nobody under the age of 65 even knows who the hell he is?

    1. He was on the Daily Show and 30 Rock pretty regularly.

      1. OK, under 65 and over 22.

        1. He tried to start his own show along the lines of A Current Affair or Dateline a few years ago. It was unwatchable, even compared to Dateline. It was basically an hour of “watch how seriously Brian Williams takes himself.” IOW, I was hating Brian Williams before it was cool.

          1. Are you talking about “Rock Center”?

    2. So you’re saying only people 65 and under watch NBC news?

      1. *65 and older*

  14. You can tell Brian Williams ain’t been in the shit cuz he don’t got the stare.

    1. but he can dodge a wrench!

      1. if you can dodge a wrench, you can dodge a ball

  15. my buddy’s mom makes $86 an hour on the computer . She has been out of a job for 5 months but last month her check was $15207 just working on the computer for a few hours. site here…………….
    ????? http://www.netcash50.com

  16. He was cute on Sesame Street.

    http://youtu.be/ZM6SDsAzemU

  17. Wait… So Stephen Glass wasn’t just an isolated incident?

    1. Brian joins the illustrious ranks of:

      Dan Rather (and his producer Mary Mapes)
      Jayson Blair (and his editor Howell Raines)
      Janet Cooke
      Stephen Glass
      Franklin Foer (remember the Scott Thomas Beachaump affair?)
      Sabrina Rudin Erdely

      I’m seeing a pattern here.

      1. They’re all right wing moles who succeeded at making various well known left wing journalistic enterprises look bad for a few minutes before it was back to business as usual?

        1. Say, John.

          Do you have a physics degree?
          A minor in philosophy?

          Do you know what I ask?

  18. Buyer beware, always. And when buying anyone’s news “reporting” be double wary.

  19. Matt, shouldn’t you be writing about more important things? Like how Koch is ruining democracy.

    I mean, really.

  20. So you’re telling me a guy whose life dream is to sit in front of millions of people and be watched as he reads the news is obsessed with how others perceive him? Shocking.

  21. These are fibs. My objection to Williams is his shameless liberal bias. Everyone at NBC and Comcast is a Democrat.

  22. When you’re reporting The Narrative, and not “the news”, is it any wonder that reporters become fabulists?

  23. Gee, The Washington Post actually doing some reporting, and displaying something remotely resembling concern for journalistic ethics. Somebody check the Washington zoo, and see if any of their leopards have changed their spots.

    1. Beautiful, absolutely beautiful.

    2. It seems Bezos is having a positive effect.

  24. Strikes me, and I’m no expert re mental disorders, that Williams might well have some serious problems, either that or he is, plainly and simply, an over paid liar. Network executives, it strikes me, leave a lot to be desired also.

    1. Place yer bets on a diagnosis of Munchhausen Syndrome. (Not the by proxy version.)

  25. Maybe they’ll get Dan Rather to write this guys biography…

  26. Some old WW2 soldier needs to say “Mr. Williams, I knew Ernie Pyle. You’re no Ernie Pyle!”

  27. NBC News broadcast is best, because it’s better than the other two at actually reporting news, even if it’s usually biased. Williams is in his chair because he looks like Brokaw. As did the woman they fired and is or was reporting celebrity gossip. He did though milk Katrina for all its worth, and was even there, as I recall, when NJ and NY were hit by a hurricane.

  28. There I was, in Mos Eisley telling the stormtroopers that these were not the droids they were looking for.
    – Brian Williams (D) NBC

    1. I was there, looking down on Atlanta, when Sherman told us to order the men to torch the city. And I just couldn’t do it. And I watched, tears streaming down my eyes, as the city was set ablaze. Houses, women, children. *dramatic pause with tears* Yes, war is hell.

      1. I hear he was also at the “Angle” when Pickett’s troops momentarily broke the Yankee line at Gettysburg. If not for Brian turning the tide, Lee might have prevailed. Thank you, Brian. We owe it all to you!

  29. Insider baseball:
    Brokaw and Letterman are pals that go way back. Brokaw has been pissed for awhile that Williams has been enhancing the facts of his 2003 Iraq Invasion anecdote. So in 2013 Williams appears on Letterman. Listen to how Dave leads in to the story. He was doing his buddy Brokaw a favor by giving Williams every opportunity to tell the original version but instead Brian doubles down. And now it is paying dividends for Brokaw.

    1. Intriguing….

    2. But what does Brokaw get out of it other than schadenfreude?

      1. He has been telling Williams to knock it off for some time (apparently). Williams ignored it. Dunno the motivation for him to want it to stop (journalistic integrity or perhaps Williams’ cult of personality exceeding Brokaw’s through lies) but he was pissed that Lyin’ Brian didn’t sunset the Hollywood version. The disobedience is why.

  30. I expect our news casters to tell the truth. He didn’t so he should be fired.

  31. His only “legitimate” out is a substance abuse problem.

  32. I got a little suspicious when Williams said he beat up Chuck Norris.

  33. He’s such a Pierce Brosnan clone wannabe.

  34. Since journalist are investigating journalist, what about Williams’ crew members (the ones armed with cameras)? Has anyone bothered to ask them, preferably “anyone” like NBC executives who probably still employ most of these people ? I quit watching NBC nightly news only because Williams delivered nuances with his reporting that I found unnecessary. I don’t need drama with my news, I’ve got enough cable channels for that (ironically, I miss HBO’s The Newsroom).

    “and always remember that the reporter telling the loudest war stories at the bar is invariably the one most full of shit.”

    Amen, brother. I’ve always been grateful to all those ears and eyes that have access to places that I do not. It sucks when you can’t trust your own ears and eyes, and I for one don’t care to evolve to that point.

  35. This is the World of Brian McBragg
    Your hair will curl in the World of McBragg.
    He fights monsters galore
    And then asks for still more
    Or so says the brag of McBragg.

    When on the hill the marines plant a flag
    They may be led by Brian McBragg.
    With a cannon in hand
    He can beat any band
    Or so says the brag of McBragg.

    Fencing and fighting and round table knighting
    And slaying of dragons, too.
    Shipping and sailing and great harpoon whaling
    There’s nothing McBragg can’t do.
    Hunting and trapping and gold miner mapping
    And flying to Timbuktu.
    Roping and riding and Indian guiding
    Brian McBragg comes through.

    This is the World of Brian McBragg
    Your head will whirl in the World of McBragg.
    He can do anything
    In his world he’s a king
    Or so says the brag of McBragg.

  36. I know this is way late but–shouldn’t it be ‘face-down’?

  37. His job is to tell stories. He sells an entertainment product. He is offered millions of dollars to tell stories that are more compelling than you’d find on other networks.

    I’d probably do the same thing given the same incentives. Given that he never actually “does” anything in these stories, I suppose the defense is that since he’s just a bystander, there’s no reason not to embellish he tale.

  38. Crockafeller Plaza

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