Williams' troubles began the year before he became the face of NBC News' flagship program, when he traveled to Iraq to provide some in-person coverage of the newly launched invasion. The fact that the network sent Williams, then an anchor on
As Time magazine columnist James Poniewozik noted, Williams' initial account of the Iraq incident amped up the drama, the sort of tonal enhancement that's proliferating as the competition among news outlets intensifies. His experience flying into Iraq on the same night some helicopters came under fire became the story, rather than the war being fought by actual military personnel. Over time, the dramatization morphed into an outright fabrication: Williams' claim that his helicopter was hit by a rocket-propelled grenade.
Williams is hardly the first famous person or journalist to aggrandize his role in important events. But as a journalist, he should have valued his integrity over his image. And even if he didn't, he should have known that social media would inevitably note the differences between his narrative and reality. NBC News' own Facebook account helped draw eyewitnesses out of the woodwork to say Williams wasn't in or anywhere close to the helicopter that was forced down. That blowback led Williams to apologize on air Wednesday, but he made matters worse by continuing to suggest he'd been in grave danger.
The Internet gives the public a wide range of information sources, and people have an alarming tendency to gravitate to the ones that reinforce their views. Mainstream outlets such as NBC News are counting on the credibility they've gained over years of reporting to lift them above the bellowing crowds online. That credibility is something that Williams should have taken more care to protect.