Hubris and the Fall of NBC News

By Al Perrotta Published on April 8, 2015

It’s been two months since the scandal erupted over suspended NBC Night News host Brian Williams and his habitual inflation of — or flat out lying about — his role in various news stories over the years. From helicopter rides under fire in Iraq to floods in the French Quarter during Katrina to the fall of the Berlin Wall, the list of exaggerations exposed seemed to grow by the day.

However, it is no exaggeration that the Williams saga was just one example of the dysfunction that has befallen a once-proud news organization.

Now, Vanity Fair has published a lengthy — and brutal — behind-the-scenes look at the fall of Williams and the NBC News operation. It’s a fascinating and informative look at the hubris and egos that drove one mainstream media organization, and a cautionary tale for anyone in media. You can find the full article here, but warned, the article contains profane language.

One of the more talked about claims in the Vanity Fair piece is Williams trying to blame a possible brain tumor for his fabricated Iraq helicopter story:

[Deborah] Turness and the other executives who had gotten involved quickly became frustrated, as they would remain for days, with Williams’s inability to explain himself. “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.”

Huffington Post lays out this and six other highlights from the long article here, including Williams’ alleged habit of hanging out in NBC’s executive dining room trashing network bosses while within earshot of NBCUniversal CEO Steve Burke, and Williams’ belief that former anchor Tom Brokaw is the true mastermind behind his downfall.

For a less salacious, more business-like look at the turmoil uncovered by Vanity Fair, CNN Money has this report.


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