As NBC News anchor Brian William waits out his six-month, unpaid exile from broadcasting, new questions are being raised about his claims of journalistic derring-do.
The most recent comes from a former United States Navy SEAL disputing Mr. Williams’s claim that he flew with SEAL Team Six during the US-led invasion of Iraq in 2003 and that he’d later been given a piece of a helicopter used in the SEAL raid into Pakistan in 2011 that killed Osama bin Laden.
"My initial reaction is it sounds completely preposterous. There's a healthy dislike towards embedded journalists within the SEAL community," Brandon Webb, a writer and former SEAL sniper who helped train “American Sniper” Chris Kyle, told the Huffington Post. "I can't even remember an embed with a SEAL unit. And especially at SEAL Team Six? Those guys don't take journalists with them on missions."
That’s the Navy’s official position as well.
"We do not embed journalists with this or any other unit that conducts counterterrorism missions," US Special Operations Command spokesman Ken McGraw told HuffPost.
Over the years, Williams also recounted how a Navy SEAL sent him a commando knife Williams had admired. He also claims to have received a highly valued memento of the bin Laden mission – a piece of the stealth helicopter that crashed during the raid.
"About six weeks after the bin Laden raid, I got a white envelope and in it was a thank-you note, unsigned," Williams told David Letterman in January 2013. "And in it was a piece of the fuselage of the blown-up Black Hawk in that courtyard. Sent to me by one of my friends."
"It’s one of the toughest things to get, and the president has a piece of it as well,” he told sports talk show host Dan Patrick. “It’s made of a material most people haven't seen or held in their hands."
As is now well-known, Williams was not – as he claimed numerous times over the years – riding in a helicopter that came under enemy fire in Iraq in 2003. He’s apologized for that tall tale. Since that admission last week, his recounting of events covering hurricane Katrina in 2005 – seeing a body floating in the street from his hotel window in the New Orleans French Quarter – has been called into question as well.
While Williams is off the air, with Lester Holt filling in, the top network anchor is still under contract with NBC – which means that he cannot speak out in his own defense without permission.
As Tom Kludt at CNN Money notes, “The suspension had an ominous feel to it – a sense, expressed by many media analysts, that there are more examples out there of the anchor embellishing the truth.”
"We have concerns about comments that occurred outside NBC News while Brian was talking about his experiences in the field," NBC News president Deborah Turness said in announcing the suspension.
Among those concerns: His coverage of the demolition of the Berlin Wall in 1989 and his story about meeting Pope John Paul II when Williams was a student at Catholic University in 1979.
For its part, NBC – whose reputation is as much on the line as Williams’s – is saying nothing beyond its initial announcement this week while it investigates the charges of journalistic embellishment made against Williams.
Williams’s story about being in a helicopter that came under fire in Iraq “was wrong and completely inappropriate for someone in Brian’s position,” Ms. Turness said in her memo to staff announcing Williams’s suspension.
Meanwhile, Williams has been meeting with friends and advisers about a strategy that would involve admitting his mistakes and apologizing to the public, writes Sharon Waxman at The Wrap.
“Williams is deeply distraught over his suspension, and acutely aware that he brought the situation on himself, according to knowledgeable individuals,” Ms. Waxman writes. “But he and his advisors believe that if he takes full responsibility for his actions and seeks counseling he can come back to the air at NBC, despite the six month suspension.”