Nationally-respected evening news anchor Brian Williams is being internally investigated by NBC, his employer. As one of the network’s most trusted – and prevalent – on-air personalities apologizes for lying about being inside of a helicopter that came under fire in Iraq, NBC has announced that it will perform an internal probe into this and other reports by Williams before deciding his ultimate fate.
The inquiry, described as “fact-checking” by multiple people in NBC’s news division on Friday, is tasked with reviewing Williams’ tale of the Iraq helicopter incident as well as reports filed by Williams while covering Hurricane Katrina. Any other discrepancies which may be found by the investigation will be thoroughly reviewed. The probe will be headed by NBC’s investigative unit head, Richard Esposito, who does not work under Williams, who himself is managing editor and anchor for “NBC Nightly News.” Still, critics are questioning why the network has decided against hiring an impartial, outside investigator instead of using one of their own employees.
While executives with NBC News have remained publicly silent on the controversy, a staff memo obtained by The New York Times on Friday contains a message from NBC News president Deborah Turness. In the note, the network head says that a team has been put into place which will work to “[gather] the facts to help us make sense of all that has transpired.” The memo also reveals that on Thursday, Turness and the disgraced anchor talked to the Nightly News staff and then spoke again during a Friday editorial meeting. She relates to her staff that Williams had again apologized for his actions and for casting a bad light on NBC and its employees.
The scandal was addressed by Williams on his Wednesday newscast, on which he apologized for exaggerating a 2003 helicopter incident while he was reporting in Iraq. Although he has claimed over the years that the helicopter in which he was riding was struck by a rocket-propelled grenade, he admitted that his helicopter had not been hit and he had, in fact, been flying in a helicopter behind the one that took fire. Stars and Stripes, the military publication which first reported the story, said on Thursday that the anchorman had been with a completely different group of helicopters flying in an altogether different direction and had only heard of the attack on the other aircraft on the radio. Williams made no mention of the issue on Thursday or Friday.
The public reaction to the scandal has included criticism both of the network and their figurehead for the way it first dealt with the news that their evening anchor had been caught in a lie. Analysts and veterans alike are calling on Williams, now under investigation by NBC, to resign. Network employees – both present and past – weighed in on what may happen to Williams, who had been highly regarded and trusted prior to his admission.
News division sources reported that network executives had canceled outside meetings and were spending all of their time on the issue, which has caused NBC to take a large blow to its credibility. Should Williams be forced to resign, the network, which is now winning the nightly news time slot, will lose ground in what is a very close ratings race with ABC and CBS.
Williams himself has become somewhat of a celebrity due to his presence on late night talk shows and in pop culture. He is looked upon as an affable and likable man who does not mind being the butt of a joke. For all the silly situations in which he found himself, the respect he garnered as a news anchor was never diminished.
News that Williams is under investigation by NBC is a shock to many, especially since Omnicom-owned research firm, The Marketing Arm, listed him as number 23 in their celebrity index of most-trusted people in the United States. In December, his contract with NBC, estimated at $50 million over five years, was extended. Still unanswered is whether or not the network knew of their anchor’s embellishment.
By Jennifer Pfalz
Image by Alex Oliveira cropped for size – Flickr License