Brian Williams' mess gets deeper: Anchor now confronts questions over Hurricane Katrina claims

After his Iraq apology fails to answer concerns, the NBC newsman faces yet another credibility problem

Published February 6, 2015 4:32PM (EST)

Brian Williams                          (Reuters/Phil Mccarten)
Brian Williams (Reuters/Phil Mccarten)

UPDATE: Williams, in a statement on Saturday afternoon, announced he would temporarily step aside from the newscast. Our story is here.

With critics relentlessly mocking him on Twitter and some calling for him to lose his job following the revelation that he misled the public for years with claims of coming under fire during the 2003 Iraq invasion, it would seem that this week could hardly get worse for NBC News anchor Brian Williams.

It just did.

Williams now faces scrutiny surrounding his harrowing accounts of Hurricane Katrina suggesting that his false tale of being aboard a helicopter hit by rocket-propelled grenade fire in Iraq may be part of a larger pattern of deception.

The devastating 2005 hurricane came less than one year after Williams succeeded veteran broadcaster Tom Brokaw as the anchor of "NBC Nightly News." Williams' on-the-ground reporting leading up to and following the storm marked a pivotal point in his journalistic career -- the moment he "took ownership ... of the anchor chair," as Brokaw put it.

But the New Orleans Advocate reports that some of Williams' most sensational stories from the period don't dovetail with reality.

During a 2006 interview, Williams recounted witnessing bodies floating outside his hotel in the French Quarter of New Orleans -- a district that never flooded, as much of the rest of the city did.

Meanwhile, the new report also casts doubt on Williams' assertion that he contracted dysentery after ingesting floodwaters. Dr. Brobson Lutz, a former New Orleans city health director who aided relief efforts following the storm, told the Advocate that he "saw a lot of people with cuts and bruises and such, but I don’t recall a single, solitary case of gastroenteritis during Katrina or in the whole month afterward.”

Asked about Williams' claim that he inadvertently drank floodwaters, Lutz said, “I don’t know anybody that’s tried that to see, but my dogs drank it, and they didn’t have any problems.”

Following the storm, the New Orleans Times-Picayune reported that many journalists had exaggerated their accounts of the storm's aftermath, with apocryphal tales of seeing lootings, murders, and other crimes. The Advocate report indicates that Williams may have been part of this larger phenomenon.

“I saw fear, I saw death, I saw depravity, I saw firearms being brandished, I saw looting,” Williams said in a 2006 interview.

Similarly, during a 2007 C-SPAN interview, Williams recalled, “We had to have men with guns behind me one night because I was the only source of light downtown, was the lights that were illuminating the broadcast."

"We were told not to drink our bottled water in front of people because we could get killed for it,” he added.

By Luke Brinker

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Brian Williams Hurricane Katrina Iraq War Journalism Media Criticism Nbc News New Orleans