Brian Williams may have lied about his Katrina experiences too
Lying about being shot down in Iraq is one thing. But NBC anchor Brian Williams is now being scrutinized for his coverage of Hurrican Katrina and some of the claims he made while on the air during New Orlean's ordeal.
Indeed, some of his claims are out and out bizarre.
The online feeding frenzy quickly turned to the 55-year-old anchor’s signature assignment: covering Katrina from before it made landfall, when he spent the night of the storm with refuge-seekers in the Superdome and then reported on the harrowing days that followed.
“When you look out of your hotel window in the French Quarter and watch a man float by face down, when you see bodies that you last saw in Banda Aceh, Indonesia, and swore to yourself that you would never see in your country,” Williams said in a 2006 interview.
And last year, in an interview with Tom Brokaw, the man he replaced in the anchor chair at NBC, Williams said:
“My week, two weeks there was not helped by the fact that I accidentally ingested some of the floodwater. I became very sick with dysentery, our hotel was overrun with gangs, I was rescued in the stairwell of a five-star hotel in New Orleans by a young police officer. We are friends to this day. And uh, it just was uh, I look back at total agony.”
But the French Quarter, the original high ground of New Orleans, was not impacted by the floodwaters that overwhelmed the vast majority of the city.
A spokesman for NBC did not immediately respond Thursday to questions about those comments, the hotel to which Williams referred, whether Williams stands by the claims or whether the network is reviewing them.
Williams has described his experiences during Katrina as personally transformative, and he has returned to the city and the topic numerous times since.
“I saw fear, I saw death, I saw depravity, I saw firearms being brandished, I saw looting,” he told the Los Angeles Times a year after Katrina made landfall.
He also recalled the danger of the moment in a 2007 interview on C-SPAN.
“We had to have men with guns behind me one night because I was the only source of light downtown, was the lights that were illuminating the broadcast,” Williams said. “We were told not to drink our bottled water in front of people because we could get killed for it.”
So is Williams a serial fabricator? The fact that it would have been nearly impossible to see a dead body floating by in the French Quarter calls into question the rest of his claims about his experiences during Katrina. Was his hotel "overrun by gangs"? No other members of the national media who stayed in New Orleans hotels reported that gangs were a problem. It's entirely possible to get dysentery from drinking dirty water, but what did he do that would have caused him to "accidentally" ingest it?
Of course, the more Willaims could enliven his narrative, the more dramatic his coverage would be. If he happened to make a few things up along the way, it was for a good cause; every instance of violence and desperation fed into the meme that President Bush was at fault for all of this. The president never recovered after Katrina.
Every big story covered by Williams will now get a once over. Revelations about his lies and exaggerations will continue for weeks. Can NBC afford to have the face of their news division under fire for so long? Expect some kind of climax to this story over the weekend.