Shortly after it emerged that now-suspended NBC Nightly News anchor Brian Williams delivered an account of a 2003 trip to Iraq, Williams couldn’t seem to explain what happened, a new story reveals.
On Feb. 4, the night that Williams would apologize for saying that he had been riding in a helicopter that came under fire, he and NBC News president Deborah Turness were exchanging emails about the wording of his apology when she and other executives became frustrated with what Williams was (and was not) saying, according to Vanity Fair.
“He couldn’t say the words 'I lied,’ ” an NBC insider tells the magazine. “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.”
That’s one of a handful of revelations in the magazine’s extensive story about Williams and recent turmoil at NBC. The article also claims that Williams played a role in former NBC News president Steve Capus’ exit, regularly "taking someone [often Capus] down a notch” at NBC’s 51st-floor executive dining room, in front of NBCUniversal CEO Steve Burke.
“If Brian could’ve eaten there eight days a week he would’ve,” an NBC executive tells the magazine. “He would hold court at some table, with some poor mid-level schmo who didn’t know what was going on, and he always seemed to be there when Steve Burke would come in. And [with Burke in earshot], he would make a point of taking someone down a notch. It could be [former NBC News chairman] Pat [Fili-Krushel] or Steve [Capus] or [P.R. chief] Adam [Miller] or someone else, but over time it got to be Steve Capus a lot. Brian took Steve down. I heard those lunches. I know what he said. He got Burke and Pat Fili very riled up about Steve.“
Another, former NBC executive adds that Williams "very quickly came to believe that he was the person running the news division, not Capus. As Capus was kind of dissed more and more to and by Burke and, ultimately, Pat Fili, Brian just saw that as an opportunity to run a truck through the news division and get whatever he wanted. Suddenly he’s appearing on all these shows, Jimmy Fallon and 30 Rock and everything else. This spread the idea in Brian’s mind that he was this kind of newsman-entertainer. That he was a national raconteur.”
The story also explores the short, tumultuous tenure of former Today svp and gm Jamie Horowitz, suggesting that he might have been the one responsible for leaking news of Matt Lauer’s interview with Ray Rice’s wife, Janay Palmer, to TMZ weeks before NBC announced the sit-down. And Vanity Fair claims suspicion about whether he was the source of that info that marked the end of his time at NBC.
Vanity Fair explains that Lauer’s interview remained secret until Horowitz asked a Today producer about it. Hours later, TMZ broke news of the interview. When Turness told Horowitz over email she was "very unhappy” about the leak, he said “I hope you don’t think I leaked that.”
Turness responded: “I don’t know what to think.”
NBC News declined to comment on the Vanity Fair article.