OPINION: Brian Williams and the Iraq War — a question of journalistic integrity


Mote is a junior French major from Indianapolis.

There is controversy surrounding NBC “Nightly News” anchor Brian Williams, who recently stated that he falsely retold his experience reporting in the Iraq War.

In 2003, Williams stated that the Chinook helicopter that he was travelling on in the Iraq desert was hit by a rocket propelled grenade. Since the date, his story has grown to include more specific details of the incident and was eventually questioned by members of the military. This prompted a sincere on-air apology from Williams on the NBC regularly scheduled news. Williams has since removed himself from the air to allow NBC to investigate while Lester Holt fills as news anchor in the meantime.

Williams’ actions raise questions of how close a reporter can be to the news without implicating him or herself in the news cycle itself. While Williams’ intentions may have been to honor the men and women of the United States military, his misunderstanding of the 2003 helicopter incident has led him to be the focal point the media in the past few days.

His incorrect retelling of the incident causes the public to question his journalistic integrity. Due to a heightened sense of criticism, there is even criticism that he incorrectly stated that he saw bodies of deceased residents of New Orleans during Hurricane Katrina. This goes contrary to reports from the location that he was staying and reporting from in New Orleans. It’s clear that as long as he hasn’t molded the truth to his propagate his own personal dealings, his journalistic integrity will remain intact.

The U.S. News opinion article titled "When the Reporter Is the Story," by Susan Milligan, highlights the struggle in discerning individual vs. group accountability in the media. How much of Williams’ exaggerations can we attribute to pressure from NBC to be seen as a reporter who could have died reporting the news for his country? It’s a difficult question to answer.

This story has caused Williams to surpass the boundaries of reporting the news and has become it himself. His actions to amend the misstatements he made were both proactive and sincere. After NBC finishes conducting their investigation, it will be nice to see him return to his anchor position at “Nightly News”.

Williams chose to put himself out there and extend the limit of what he knew to be true. At some point, he had to have doubted his own recollection of the incident if he hadn’t originally remembered the details of it. This doubt should have triggered a call to recant his incorrect story even earlier than now. Had he recanted sooner, his journalistic integrity may not have been questioned so intensely.

As for who is to blame for Williams’ misstatements, it all depends on your perception of accountability.