NBC investigates Williams, while CNN retracts 'scoop' with 'pilot'

Despite those who said it would be history by Friday, the Brian Williams nightmare is nowhere near ending for NBC.

Despite those who predicted the Brian Williams story would be history by the end of the day Friday, the nightmare at NBC News is nowhere near ending.

In fact, the troubles of Williams and NBC News only worsened as the tumultuous week concluded.


Deborah Turness, president of NBC News, gave a sense of the turmoil within a deeply troubled news operation with a memo sent to staff Friday afternoon.

It says:

This has been a difficult few days for all of us at NBC News.  

Yesterday, Brian and I spoke to the Nightly News team. And this morning at the Editorial Exchange, we both addressed the wider group. Brian apologized once again, and specifically expressed how sorry he is for the impact this has had on all of you and on this proud organization.

As you would expect, we have a team dedicated to gathering the facts to help us make sense of all that has transpired.  We're working on what the best next steps are – and when we have something to communicate we will of course share it with you.

Since joining NBC News, I've seen great strength and resilience. We are a close-knit family, and your response this week has made that even clearer.   

As a relentless news agenda marches on, thank you again for continuing to do what we do best – bring the most important stories of the day to our audience.

The "team dedicated to gathering the facts" is actually an investigation into some of the claims made by Williams in recent years, including the one about him being in a helicopter hit by a rocket-propelled grenade during the invasion of Iraq in 2003.

The military publication "Stars and Stripes" exposed that as a lie Wednesday through interviews with soldiers who were on the helicopter that was hit and others flying in choppers alongside.

Williams offered a vague apology on-air Wednesday night, but it only made mattrers worse in the way that he tried to pass it off as simply a case of misremembering exactly what happened and "conflating" his ride in a helicopter that wasn't hit by an RPG with one that was.

Charges also surfaced Thursday that accounts by Williams of life in New Orleans in the immediate wake of Hurricane Katrina were not true.

The Iraq lie alone is a serious blow to the credibility of a network news division that seems to have been making nothing but bad journalistic decisions the last three years or so with Williams as managing editor and anchor of its banner newscast.

And more bad news had already arrived Friday when a man who CNN had identified as the pilot of the chopper carrying Williams in Iraq recanted what CNN says he told them on Thursday.

According to CNN, the pilot said that while his helicopter had not been hit by an RPG, it had taken on some small arms fire.


Even if true, it didn't change the fact that Williams lied about the kind of fire and danger he had been under.

But it now is appears the man CNN quoted in its interview wasn't even the pilot of the chopper Williams was on, and Friday morning, he said he could no longer remember what happened in Iraq and didn't want to talk about it any more.

CNN senior media correspondent Brain Stelter, who reported the man's words during a CNN segment in which I also appeared, said on Friday that the channel was "revising" that Thursday report.

But, in fact, what they were doing was retracting it.

Stelter says in the video that he now wishes he hadn't gone on air with what the man said. I'll bet.

If the small arms claim had given Williams any wiggle room in trying to construct a defense based on faulty memory instead of being a self-aggandizing liar, the recantation by the so-called pilot blew it away.

I'll be on "Media Buzz" at 11 a.m. Sunday with Paul Farhi, of the Washington Post, and former CBS correspondent Sharyl Attkisson discussing the Williams story.