The latest issue of Vanity Fair magazine has an in-depth look at how NBC News fell apart leading to the Brian Williams scandal. In early February, it was revealed that Williams had invented a 2003 account of his helicopter having taken enemy fire and being forced down during the invasion of Iraq.
According to the piece, after Williams was caught lying, he was initially reluctant to admit his error, and it seemed as if he was competing against Tom Brokaw:
“[He said], ‘Did something happen to [my] head? Maybe I had a brain tumor, or something in my head,” a source told the magazine in its upcoming piece. “He just didn’t know. We just didn’t know. We had no clear sense what had happened. We got the best [apology] we could get.”
In the aftermath of the scandal, people at NBC News have repeatedly cited Williams’ penchant for bureaucratic infighting and his limited interest in “heavy” news, the piece says.
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“Brian has very little interest in politics,” one insider told the magazine. “It’s not in his blood. What Brian cares about is logistics, the weather, and planes and trains and helicopters.”
Williams was described as very insecure because he had never been a foreign or war correspondent. The insiders said his gussied-up accounts of seeing bodies floating in post-hurricane New Orleans were his way of trying to prove his journalistic chops.
“He didn’t want to leave New York,” a onetime NBC exec told the magazine. “Getting him to war zones was real tough . . . but when he did go, he came back with these great stories that kind of put himself at the center of things.”
According to the article Williams’s lying may have come from a feeling of insecurity because he replaced Tom Brokaw:
This executive long believed that Williams’s penchant for embellishment was a function of his insecurity when it came to Brokaw, but that it was all essentially harmless. “I always felt he needed to jack up his stories because he was trying so hard to overcome his insecurities,” this executive says. “And he had to follow Tom, which brought its own set of insecurities. He likes to sort of tell these grandiose tales. But, can I tell you, in all the years we worked together, it never rose to the point where we said, ‘Oh, there he goes again.’ I just saw it as one of the quirks of his personality.” It was a quirk, however, that incensed Brokaw, who is still thought highly of inside the news division. “Tom treated that anchor chair as a public trust,” says one former correspondent. “He really was our Walter Cronkite.”
After he was told about the six-month suspension, Williams explained what happened to a friend:
While he has accepted responsibility for his actions, friends say, Williams is bitter, especially at those who he believes might have saved him. “I talked to Brian about this,” says one friend, “and I’ll never forget what he said at the end. He said, ‘Chalk one up for Brokaw.’ ”
Cross-posted at The Lid