Brian Williams, NBC News anchor and past Elon University commencement speaker, has gone from delivering headlines to making them. Amid an escalating scandal around the accuracy of his reporting on an Iraq War mission in 2003, Williams announced Thursday he would be temporarily stepping down from his duties.
Speculations around Williams’ 2003 claims were sparked Jan. 30, when NBC Nightly News posted a clip to Facebook of Williams recounting stories of his reporting of the U.S. Invasion of Iraq. In one recollection, he claimed he was aboard a helicopter that was forced down after being struck by a grenade.
The story was blasted by U.S. soldiers who remembered the event quite differently. Chris Simeone, who identified himself as the pilot of the helicopter that carried Williams and other reporters during the invasion, called the anchor a “liar.”
“He was on my aircraft and we were NOT shot down. That was a sister ship and a friend of mine,” he wrote. “Brian Williams has been knowingly lying since that mission to boost his credentials.”
Flight engineer Lance Reynolds, who was verified as being on the actual helicopter that was shot down, was also among those who took offense.
“Sorry dude, I don’t remember you being on my aircraft,” he wrote on Facebook. “I do remember you walking up about an hour after we had landed to ask me what had happened.”
Williams responded to the controversy last Wednesday when he admitted his mistake.
“I feel terrible about making this mistake, especially since I found my OWN WRITING about the incident from back in ‘08,” he wrote on Facebook. “I was indeed on the Chinook behind the bird that took the RPG in the tail housing just above the ramp.”
But Williams’ woes do not end there — as days progressed, commentators pointed to other instances of fact-checking errors including Williams’ after-action report on Hurricane Katrina in which he claimed he saw a corpse floating by his hotel in the French Quarter. This, skeptics pointed out, was near impossible as the French Quarter was largely dry at the time.
As tension rose and NBC announced it would be launching an internal investigation, Williams announced his “temporary leave” on Friday, saying that he had “become too much apart of the news” as his main reason.
Despite the growing controversy, Elon University has maintained they will continue to maintain a close relationship with the renowned anchor.
“He has explained his mistake and taken responsibility for it,” Dan Anderson, vice president of university communications, said Thursday. “I don’t anticipate there being any changes.”
Williams fostered a strong relationship with the university over the years. He was a commencement speaker in 2013, when his son Douglas graduated from Elon, and also serves as the national chair of the School of Communications Advisory Board. In late October, he was the primary host of Elon’s New York Gala where the new School of Communications fundraising campaign was announced. Williams is a significant donor to the campaign — one of the television studios in the remodeled McEwen will include his and his wife Jane’s name.