Opinion

Brian Williams to co-workers about war-story lies: ‘Maybe I had a brain tumor’

Suspended NBC News anchor Brian Williams had so much difficulty coming to terms with his serial fabrications over his alleged experience in a combat helicopter in Iraq he resorted to possible medical problems to explain what he was doing.

That was the most disturbing segment of a novella-length look at the problems Williams’ exposure brought to light at NBC’s embattled news division in the upcoming issue of Vanity Fair magazine.

“He couldn’t say the words ‘I lied,’ ” recalls one NBC insider. “We could not force his mouth to form the words ‘I lied.’ He couldn’t explain what had happened. [He said,] ‘Did something happen to [my] head? Maybe I had a brain tumor, or something in my head?’ He just didn’t know. We just didn’t know. We had no clear sense what had happened. We got the best [apology] we could get.”

The Vanity Fair piece reports no evidence that Williams suffers from a medical problem that could have caused him to hallucinate a story he told in various versions over the years between the American invasion of Iraq in 2003 and his spectacular downfall in February.

But it does point the numerous personality clashes and corporate infighting that brought NBC News to the brink of destruction. And it points up the importance of personalities in the mainstream media that shapes so much of American debate.

With NBC, those personalities used to be anchorman Tom Brokaw and “Meet the Press” host Tim Russert.

Brokaw’s now retired. Russert died in 2008.

‘There is NBC News before Tim died and after Tim died,” on former correspondent told Vanity Fair. “Tim was our soul, our conscience ….”

And Brokaw? His clashes with Williams come through loud and clear in the magazine piece.

“I talked to Brian about this,” Vanity Fair quotes one source as saying. “And I’ll never forget what he said at the end. He said, ‘Chalk one up for Brokaw.’”

Joe Saunders

Joe Saunders, a 25-year newspaper veteran, is a staff writer and editor for BizPac Review who lives in Tallahassee and covers capital and Florida politics. Email Joe at [email protected].

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