Will Brian Williams Survive His Helicopter Scandal?


On Wednesday evening, NBC anchor Brian Williams apologized for his claim that he was on board a helicopter that was struck by a rocket-propelled grenade in Iraq. The lie came to light after NBC Nightly News aired a segment where Williams took a soldier to a New York Rangers game. The soldier, US Army Command Sergeant Major Tim Terpak, was credited with being “‘responsible for the safety of Brian Williams and his NBC News team after their Chinook helicopter was hit and crippled by enemy fire’ during the invasion of Iraq,” according to the New York Times. When the segment was posted to Facebook, Lance Reynolds, who served as the helicopter’s flight engineer, posted the comment: “Sorry dude, I don’t remember you being on my aircraft.”

Williams is currently in the public apology phase of his screw-up, amid rumblings that he should resign or be fired. As Sheila Weller, the author of the recent triple biography The News Sorority: Diane Sawyer, Katie Couric, Christiane Amanpour — and the (Ongoing, Imperfect, Complicated) Triumph of Women in TV News writes on the book’s official Facebook page: “Sorry, but if this were a female anchor… she’d be out the door. But then, a female anchor did not make this, um, ‘mistake.'”

Perhaps a clue to whether Brian Williams can survive this scandal lies in looking at other cases of news anchors duping and getting duped. Some of the commentary calling for Williams to resign feels a bit prematurely jaded, but on the other hand, it will be interesting to see whether or not this scandal sticks. Anchors occupy a complicated place in our psyches, and the idea that Williams, generally a good-sport mensch, could lie so blatantly could be the beginning of the end for him. After all, the people that can throw off scandal, much of the time, tend to be shady on the regular.

Greg Kelly

The Soup‘s favorite punching bag, Kelly, the co-host of Good Day New York, was accused of rape in early 2012. He took a leave of absence from Good Day New York, but the DA announced on February 7 that they wouldn’t be pursuing charges, and Kelly — the son of former New York police commissioner Ray Kelly — was back in the anchor chair three days later. It was a case that was played out in the tabloids, where Maria Di Toro, the accuser, was put on the cover of the New York Post with the headline “Shady Lady.” In an extensive interview two years later with BuzzFeed, she stood by her story.

Dan Rather

In a 2004 report for 60 Minutes Wednesday, Rather presented documents that claimed then-presidential candidate George W. Bush got “preferential treatment” regarding his service in the National Guard. Once the report aired, the documents were derided as fakes and forgeries, and CBS’s journalistic authority was in question. Rather continued to defend their authenticity and ended up leaving the CBS Evening News soon after in 2005, with the fact that he was a “scapegoat” in the controversy as a driver. In 2007, Rather sued CBS; it was dismissed in 2009. Robert Redford is slated to play Rather in an upcoming film, Truth, about the whole mess.

Matt Lauer

Scandal follows Lauer around like a puppy, and yet he still manages to survive. To wit: Ann Curry’s outster from the Today Show in June 2012 was widely seen as the result of Lauer’s Machiavellian ministrations. His 2006 divorce papers, made public in 2014, accused him of “cruel and inhumane treatment” towards his ex-wife. It has been rumored that he has cheated with Natalie Morales, Samantha Guthrie, and Giada De Laurentiis — he denied the last accusation on TMZ, saying, “I never banged Giada.” He has been the host of the Today Show since 1997.

Alycia Lane and Larry Mendte

Philadelphia news anchor Lane was fired for “inappropriate conduct” in 2008 when flirty text messages and a rumor that she had an affair with her co-anchor Larry Mendte became public. This news became known once Mendte’s wife confronted him, and Mendte hacked into Lane’s work computer and sent emails to newspaper reporters. It was also reported that Lane sent flirty photos to NFL anchorman Rich Eisen and got arrested in New York for punching a policewoman in the face. She sued the Philadelphia station in 2008, moved to Los Angeles, and was back on air by August 2009. Today, Mendte currently hosts three local TV shows.