Brian Williams’ account of seeing dead body float by hotel during Katrina ‘very suspect,’ commander says

‘It would be very suspect, but anything’s possible,’ Lt. Gen. Russel L. Honoré says

Brian Williams’ account of seeing dead body float by hotel during Katrina ‘very suspect,’ commander says

The U.S. Army commander of the joint task force during Hurricane Katrina says Brian Williams’ story about seeing a dead body float by his New Orleans hotel room during the 2005 storm is “suspect.”

Lt. Gen. Russel L. Honoré told CNN’s “Reliable Sources” on Sunday that the flooding around Williams’ hotel — the Ritz-Carlton — at the time the NBC News anchor said he saw the body float by would likely not have been high enough, as there was relatively little flooding in the French Quarter, the area where Williams was staying.

“It would be very suspect,” Honoré said. “But anything’s possible.”

Honoré said while it was possible Williams saw a dead body float by, it was unlikely because the water was “well below knee level around the Ritz-Carlton.”

The retired general also said if Williams did see a dead body, he should’ve reported it to authorities or tried to help the victim.

“If he was a newsman and saw a body floating by his hotel, why didn’t he go grab it? Why didn’t he get somebody and report it?” Honoré wondered. “Either report it — which you’re supposed to do — or as a human being go out and try to assist that person or get somebody.”

Williams also said his hotel was “overrun with gangs,” an assertion Honoré said was never corroborated.

Honoré’s comments come as stories Williams told on and off air are under intense scrutiny after the “NBC Nightly News” anchor admitted last week he embellished his experience in Iraq, where he said a helicopter he had been traveling in during a 2003 sandstorm came under fire.

Don Helus, an Iraq war veteran who was piloting the helicopter that was hit by a rocket-propelled grenade and forced down, contradicted another part of Williams’ story, saying there is no way the newsman would’ve been able to see “down the tube of an RPG that had been fired on us,” as Williams had claimed in 2007.

“If he’s that close, then he’s got bigger problems,” Helus said on CNN. “The only thing you see coming off of an RPG is the smoke trail and explosion. Like I said, if you’re that close, you have bad luck.”

Helus said when his unit returned to Kuwait, he heard Williams’ account of the story in an online video and contacted NBC to report the embellishment.

Still, Helus said he wasn’t surprised that Williams would exaggerate the story.

“We have embellishers in the military [who] try to, I guess, tell a story of their war medals and, you know, their time in combat,” Helus said. “I assume you as journalists have the same in yours. The fact is that Mr. Williams wasn’t in or near our aircraft at the time [it was hit]. It saddens me that you have so many other combat journalists out there who are in that type of situation. You know, seeing those things happen. More than likely, they probably don’t tell the story like that, you know, with embellishment.”

Honoré said Williams violated an unwritten rule of telling war stories by making the stories “about him.”

Chief Allan Kelly, who was piloting the helicopter Williams was in, said it was “possible” Williams could have thought the helicopter was taking fire if he had been listening to chatter from the other two on a headset.

“Anything’s possible,” Kelly said. “I don’t remember if they were hooked up on headsets or not and could hear what was going on. We had a lot of stuff going on in the radios. We had a couple of aircraft that were calling for help, being shot down. ... So, Mr. Williams in the back, he’s free to look out the windows back there. He wouldn’t see much. If he was on headsets and heard radio calls over guard, it’s possible he could have thought that, I suppose.”

On Saturday, Williams announced that he was taking a temporary leave of absence from “Nightly News.”

“In the midst of a career spent covering and consuming news, it has become painfully apparent to me that I am presently too much a part of the news, due to my actions,” Williams said in a memo to NBC staffers. “I have decided to take myself off of my daily broadcast for the next several days. Upon my return, I will continue my career-long effort to be worthy of the trust of those who place their trust in us.”

On Friday, NBC News President Deborah Turness said the network was conducting an internal investigation into Williams’ statements. Lester Holt will anchor “Nightly News” in Williams’ absence.

An unnamed NBC News executive told the Los Angeles Times that “the fact-checking into Williams’ reporting on Iraq and his 2005 coverage of Hurricane Katrina had turned up no issues to change the anchor’s status” and it is expected that Williams “will return after the self-imposed hiatus.”

In December, NBC signed Williams, who had recently celebrated his 10th anniversary as “Nightly News” anchor, to a new five-year contract worth a reported $10 million per year.

“Brian is one of the most trusted journalists of our time,” Turness wrote in a memo to staffers announcing the new deal. “He has led this organization through every major news event for the last decade, from Hurricane Katrina in his first year in the anchor chair to his exclusive interview with Edward Snowden this year, through elections, wars, natural disasters, tragedies and triumphs. In all of those cases he’s taken ‘Nightly News’ viewers to the heart of the stories that matter most in a way that’s uniquely his.”