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The Crashing Lies of Brian Williams

Brian Williams, the talking hair-do at NBC Nightly News, is stepping down for a few days after reluctantly admitting he lied about being in a helicopter that was shot down while reporting in Iraq. Williams apologized, stating he was mistaken about the events that took place 12 years ago and that his chopper wasn’t hit and didn’t make an emergency landing in the Iraq desert. His real intentions, Williams exclaimed, were only to recognize the heroics of our “brave military men and women”.

Even so, Williams is still mangling the facts. He contends his helicopter was right behind the one that was actually damaged and that both crafts landed together after being shot at.  In reality, the helicopter Williams was on landed up to an hour after the first one made a crash landing.

Like many CounterPunch readers, I’ve never taken Williams as a serious journalist. The fabricated story of the chopper he was in being “forced down after being hit by an RPG” took place while he was embedded with U.S. forces in the early days of the Iraq invasion. It was these embedded reporters, with few exceptions, that presented a very distorted view of events that were taking place on the ground. As Patrick Cockburn, one of the great unembedded journalists, writes, “[embedding] leads reporters to see the Iraqi and Afghan conflicts primarily in military terms, while the most important developments are political or, if they are military, may have little to do with foreign forces.”

In short, embedded journalists often serve as conduits for government propaganda.

No doubt Williams’ journalistic integrity ought to come under scrutiny now that he’s accepting responsibility for his crash landing lies. However, it’s not just events in Iraq that he’s fabricated. As our friends over at Fair report, Williams also sensationalized his recollections of Hurricane Katrina on its fifth anniversary:

You know, I’ve been around a lot of guns and a lot of dead bodies, and a lot of people shooting at people to make dead bodies. But you put them all together and you put it in the United States of America, and boy, it gets your attention…

It was clear already there weren’t going to be enough cops… Everywhere we went, every satellite shot, every camera shot, we were at the height of the violence and the looting and the—all the reports of gunplay downtown. Well, who’s bathed in the only lights in town? It was us…

We had to ask Federal Protection Service guys with automatic weapons to just form a ring and watch our backs while we were doing Dateline NBC one night . State troopers had to cover us by aiming at the men in the street just to tell them, “Don’t think of doing a smash and grab and killing this guy for the car.”

His memory, of course, is a lot more than just a bit fuzzy. During Katrina, Williams didn’t report being in such dire circumstances, nor do official numbers back up his tall tale. At the time, there were only “six or seven deaths” that were the result of murder. Like his fake chopper saga, Williams may well be lying about what he saw in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina as well.

The dominoes are still falling. Williams has also told two different stories regarding an interview he did with Nelson Mandela in 1994 and he’s misrepresented Iran’s position on nuclear weapons on multiple occasions. Additionally, Williams hailed the Iraq invasion as “the cleanest war in all of military history” and purported that it set off a wave of democratic movements across the Middle East.

How’s that for propaganda?

We shouldn’t be surprised. Patrick L. Smith nicely sums up the state of network journalism in a recent print issue of CounterPunch magazine, “[Brian Williams and Tom Brokaw et al] are vastly too invested in the elite they aspire to join and defend. Whatever they may have been as they came up in the craft, too much money and aggrandizement has ruined them. Their work is purely clerical.”

NBC has launched its own investigation into Brian Williams’ Iraq reporting, and it’s not out of the question that the tarnished anchor may never again host the network’s flagship news program. Cheers to that.

JOSHUA FRANK is Managing Editor of CounterPunch. He is author of Left Out! How Liberals Helped Reelect George W. Bush (Common Courage Press, 2005), and along with Jeffrey St. Clair, the editor of Red State Rebels: Tales of Grassroots Resistance in the Heartland and Hopeless: Barack Obama and the Politics of Illusion, both published by AK Press. He can be reached at brickburner@gmail.com. You can follow him on Twitter@brickburner.