Brian Williams’ false statements regarding his experience on a military helicopter during the 2003 invasion of Iraq have triggered an investigation amid escalating criticism of the anchorman’s actions.
NBC News launched the inquiry of the news anchor’s accounts of his travels in Iraq, which have come under attack from Iraq war veterans and are spurring a growing chorus from media critics who say his journalistic credibility has been seriously undermined.
Williams has said in recent years that he was in a Chinook helicopter that was brought down by grenade and small arms fire, even though his original 2003 reporting said it was another helicopter in the convoy that was hit.
NBC News President Deborah Turness said an internal investigation is underway.
“We have a team dedicated to gathering the facts to help us make sense of all that has happened,” she said in a statement. An NBC News executive who is not authorized to speak publicly told the Los Angeles Times that Richard Esposito -- the head of the news division investigations unit -- is overseeing the inquiry.
The controversy has now extended to Williams’ reporting in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina in 2005. The executive also said possible contradictions that have surfaced in that coverage will be examined as well.
For the record
Feb. 6, 2:08 p.m.: An earlier version of this post reported that Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans in 2006. It struck in 2005.
If the investigation demonstrates a pattern of Williams straying from the facts, his status could be in jeopardy. NBC News executives are discussing possible scenarios if Williams has to take a leave of absence or resign from “NBC Nightly News,” the executive told The Times.
Williams, who perpetuated the erroneous version of the Iraq incident on “NBC Nightly News” and in a 2013 appearance on “The Late Show with David Letterman,” apologized for the mistake on the air Wednesday, and again before news division staffers Friday afternoon. But his statements have failed to stem the criticism and comments by members of the crew on the helicopter that was attacked who contradict Williams’ account.
One pilot who verified parts of Williams’ story to CNN on Thursday has recanted his story, saying his memory of the events is unclear.
The pilot, Richard Krell, told CNN in an interview Thursday that he was flying the helicopter that Williams was on in Iraq in 2003 -- a helicopter the anchor initially claimed was forced down by enemy fire. Krell contradicted Williams’ claims about being aboard the helicopter that was forced down, but said Williams had been there during the time of the attack.
Krell said the three helicopters in the formation, which included the one Williams was on, came under “small-arms fire.”
But on Friday morning, in a text to CNN reporter Brian Stelter, Krell seemed to question his own account after other helicopter pilots told the New York Times that they had piloted Williams’ helicopter and did not recall their convoy coming under fire.
“The information I gave you was true based on my memories, but at this point I am questioning my memories,” Krell said, according to CNN.
Times staff writer Brittny Mejia contributed to this report.