A months-long internal investigation of Brian Williams by NBC News has turned up 11 instances in which the anchorman publicly embellished details of his reporting exploits, according to a person familiar with details of the probe.
NBC undertook the examination of Williams’ statement after he apologized in early February for saying on “NBC Nightly News” that a military helicopter in which he was traveling at the start of the Iraq War had been damaged by rocket fire. His account was challenged by soldiers who were on the flight, leading to a furor that prompted NBC to suspend Williams for six months without pay and to investigate other statements he’s made.
The Iraq claim was one of the 11 suspect statements that a team of NBC News journalists has identified during the inquiry, said the individual, who asked not to be identified because he isn’t authorized to talk about an internal matter.
The investigators, led by NBC News senior executive producer Richard Esposito, have also raised doubts about Williams’ comments about his experiences covering Israel’s military action against Hezbollah in Lebanon in 2006. In an interview with a student-run television station at Fairfield University in Connecticut in 2007, Williams said he saw rockets passing “just beneath” the Israel helicopter in which he was traveling. But Williams gave a less harrowing account of the same trip in an NBC News blog a year earlier.
NBC executives met in a conference room Thursday morning at the network’s Rockefeller Center headquarters for a briefing about the investigation. The meeting included the three executives likely to determine Williams’ fate at the network: NBC Universal chief executive Steve Burke, NBC News chairman Andrew Lack and NBC News president Deborah Turness.
An NBC News spokesperson declined comment on Friday. Williams’ attorney, Robert Barnett of Washington, did not respond to a request for comment.
It’s not clear when, or even if, Esposito’s findings about Williams will be made public. Although the investigation could be a critical factor in whether NBC decides to bring Williams back, it could also remain confidential as a condition of any potential severance agreement, an NBC journalist said on Friday.
Williams’ descriptions of both the Iraq and Israeli episodes have been previously reported, but the NBC inquiry appears to have turned up at least one incident that escaped notice in the frenzy that surrounded Williams’ suspension. This one involves Williams’ description of his reporting from Cairo’s Tahrir Square during the Arab Spring uprisings in early 2011.
It’s not clear whether Williams actually reported from the chaotic square. The New York Times on Friday cited an appearance by Williams on “The Daily Show” in February, 2011 in which Williams said he saw members of a pro-government group on horseback beating anti-government protesters in the square. Williams said he had “actually made eye contact with the man on the lead horse,” according to a video of the interview, but that account has been called into question by the investigators, according to the Times.
Williams’ suspension ends in August. During his absence, veteran NBC newsman Lester Holt has taken over anchoring “Nightly News.”