In his interview with Matt Lauer on the “Today” show this morning, Brian Williams made a welcoming gesture toward his critics. “Hold me to account. Judge me by as harsh a standard as you wish,” said Williams.
The folks at the Media Research Center (MRC) are happy to accept the invitation. MRC, based in Reston, is the home of NewsBusters, the folks who pick apart the broadcasts and scribblings of mainstream media outlets in search of lefty bias, lefty presumptions, lefty gaffes and plain stupidity. In that pursuit, MSNBC already gets a scrubbing from NewsBusters, as its archive for the network displays.
Yet now Williams, the serial-embellishing, suspended former anchor of “NBC Nightly News,” is moving to MSNBC in mid-August to assist in breaking news situations. Trust that NewsBusters will be paying particular attention to his treatment of these breaking news situations. “The first time he has to report on things that he has sloppily exaggerated, we will have fun,” says Tim Graham, the executive editor of NewsBusters.
The fun may not have to wait too long, thanks to the breadth of Williams’ untruths. According to various reports, an internal investigation conducted by NBC News’s Richard Esposito dug up 10-12 instances of such bad conduct.The most famous of the instances relates to Williams’ false account of taking incoming fire in a helicopter during the invasion of Iraq in March 2003, but his recollections of reporting on Hurricane Katrina, the Berlin Wall and other events also were called into question.
In any case, we asked Graham for the official NewsBusters Brian Williams Hot Topic Watchlist. He responded with this:
The Seal Team 6 “souvenir”
Israel v. Hezbollah (another helicopter-distress lie)
The “I was theres” at the fall of the Berlin Wall and “shaking hands” with Pope John Paul at Catholic U. in 1979
That list looks a bit skimpy, so NewsBusters needs a little help from NBC News to beef it up. “I’m sure Esposito has more, which is why they need to release it,” writes Graham via e-mail. “You can’t say you’re holding Williams accountable, and then not sharing your investigation’s results with the public.”
NBC News hasn’t done so. Nor did an inkling of the investigation’s results squeak out of the Lauer-Williams interview. To his credit, Lauer asked Williams about the investigation. “Are there other stories [aside from Iraq-chopper] that you now admit that you told regarding other news stories you were involved in … that were also untrue?” Williams responded with the collective wisdom of every PR agent in Manhattan: “One is too much,” he said, in addition to other vague words. Lauer eventually dropped his inquiry about the inquiry. NBC News executives had to be delighted.
Previous embarrassments in the network news world have ended with the public release of the internal investigations. For example, CBS News released a a summary of findings about its failures in a “60 Minutes” Benghazi investigation. And CBS News also released a report looking into the network’s discredited story on President George W. Bush’s Texas Air National Guard service.
Why not follow the lead of those examples? An NBC source tells the Erik Wemple Blog that there’s an important distinction between those situations and the Brian Williams situation — namely, the issue of systematic failure. “This was an investigation, a review focused on the failings of one person and largely off of NBC News platforms,” says the source.
Plenty of critics would challenge this contention, noting that failing to stop Williams from spreading falsehoods, even on other platforms, is an institutional failing. And even if you accept that there were no systemic breakdowns at NBC News — isn’t that an argument in favor of releasing the report?