Brian Williams Under Microscope After Recanting Helicopter Story
AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:
For a third straight day, NBC News anchor Brian Williams has come under criticism for his account of being under fire while covering the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq, an account that he had to retract and apologize for. He's also being criticized for his apology. A U.S. Army helicopter pilot who partially backed-up Williams yesterday during interviews with CNN withdrew his own account today.
Meanwhile, new questions were raised about the veracity of Williams's reporting on Hurricane Katrina. Late this afternoon the president of NBC News finally released her first public comment on the matter. For more on this story, NPR media correspondent David Folkenflik joins us now from New York. And David, begin with that statement from the head of NBC.
DAVID FOLKENFLIK, BYLINE: Well, Deborah Turness put out an internal memo to staff at NBC and circulated it to reporters like me in which she made clear that she and Brian Williams had appeared before the "Nightly News" team last night and that Williams apologized again this morning to the full news staff for what he did and the impact it's had on NBC. The statement said also, quote, "we have a team dedicated to gathering the facts to help us make sense of all that has transpired." And she continued, "we're working on what the best next steps are." And that's an internal review.
What she doesn't do is offer an unqualified vote of support. And indeed, you know, you saw The New York Post of late reporting that former NBC News anchor Tom Brokaw, Williams' predecessor and patron in some ways, had been privately calling for Williams to be served up on a platter. Brokaw put a statement out saying, not true, I haven't suggested that - his fate is up to Brian Williams and to NBC News executives. Again, not the strongest vote of support for continuing tenure for Brian Williams.
CORNISH: And then conflicting accounts continue, right? Those CNN interviews yesterday with the former U.S. Army helicopter pilot Rich Krell. What happened there?
FOLKENFLIK: Well, Krell basically - you know, Williams had had the account of being in a chopper in 2003 being downed by a rocket-propelled grenade in the Iraqi desert. It's now clear that Williams was not on the helicopter that was hit by the grenade itself. Krell had said that he had been the pilot of the chopper in which Williams had flown and that they had taken some gunfire. But in the face of interviews by five other soldiers with the Stars And Stripes military publication, Krell said he may be misremembering which craft Williams flew in. And he backed down today. He said he's been trying to get over the nightmares of his service in Iraq, and he just may be remembering wrong.
CORNISH: And then an entirely different story now, right, questions about Brian Williams' work during Hurricane Katrina? Tell us what the allegations are.
FOLKENFLIK: Well, critics turned their eyes to this in 2005. Of course, he reported from New Orleans. He had talked later about the flood waters surrounding the Ritz-Carlton, about personally seeing a dead body, about contracting dysentery. And interestingly, today, later in the day, there has been some photographic support of the idea of floodwaters at Ritz-Carlton. Other reporters tell me he could've seen a dead body. The question of contracting dysentery from the water there - still up in the air.
CORNISH: Finally, David, where is all this headed? I mean, you mentioned statements from other anchors - I mean, where do you see this going for him?
FOLKENFLIK: Well, he's taking a lot of rhetorical flak from conservative critics, from media critics, from journalists in the profession and from people in the military. And there's real debate internally at NBC and elsewhere over whether this failing should lead to Williams' professional ouster. He has, after all, had a record at NBC of roughly two decades - a strong one, well-regarded.
And as a practical matter, as you look at NBC, which has had trouble in its morning show losing in the ratings to "Good Morning America" at ABC, and elsewhere, it's not clear who else NBC could appoint. There's no clear heir apparent. And therefore, for both practical, professional, philosophical and principled matters, it's not clear what NBC's exactly going to do next. Perhaps we're going to see as a result of this team that the president has appointed.
CORNISH: That's NPR media correspondent David Folkenflik.
David, thank you.
FOLKENFLIK: You bet. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.