Vanity Fair has a lengthy, behind-the-scenes piece in their May 2015 issue about the Brian Williams scandal that rocked NBC News, and the long and short of it is, things aren’t looking great for Williams. The piece paints a vastly different picture of the news anchor America loved and trusted, and was maybe willing to forgive after his anecdotes about what he experienced reporting from Iraq during the war. At best, it was an exaggeration, and at worst, it was a flat-out lie.
However, according to the article, as NBC executives and head of NBC News Deborah Turness struggled to get the news anchor to come to terms with the situation as to what he had done, Williams was reportedly in such severe denial that at one point, he actually blamed his potential indiscretions on a brain tumor, of all things:
“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.”
As far as what else Williams may or may not have exaggerated about behind the scenes, insiders report that there wasn’t much, as Williams was reportedly not even all that interested in politics.
“What always bothered Tim [Russert] was Brian’s lack of interest in things that mattered most, that were front and center, like politics and world events,” says a person who knew both men well. “Brian has very little interest in politics. It’s not in his blood. What Brian cares about is logistics, the weather, and planes and trains and helicopters.”
“You know what interested Brian about politics?” marvels one longtime NBC correspondent, recently departed. “Brian was obsessed with whether Mitt Romney wore the Mormon underwear.” (A supporter says that this characterization is unfair and that Williams reads deeply and broadly, especially about history and politics.)
Sources also reiterate reports from last month that claim Williams was supposedly gunning for Jay Leno’s job. Anonymous executives say that Williams was much more focused on entertainment and being a “good-humored everyman” who would show up on 30 Rock and late night shows, rather than reporting on current events from around the world and covering hard-hitting stories.
“By 2007, 2008, Brian was starting to feel his oats a bit,” says a onetime NBC executive who knows him well. “It was a bit of a challenge, not huge. Manageable. He was more reluctant to go on difficult assignments. He didn’t want to leave New York. Getting him to war zones was real tough … but when he did go, he came back with these great stories that kind of put himself at the center of things.
The article additionally goes into much greater detail about the political landscape from inside NBC Universal after Comcast acquired the media company in 2011; but even if half of the stuff about Brian Williams is true, it’s pretty damning to say the least. Williams already had quite the uphill battle ahead of him and in light of these additional claims, and it’s unclear if he’ll ever be able to bounce back.