CNN is walking back from its interview with a pilot who appeared to partly corroborate NBC Nightly News anchor Brian Williams’ account of being on a helicopter that took fire in Iraq on 2003.
The pilot, Rich Krell, said Thursday he was flying the helicopter that Williams was on, and the aircraft came under “small-arms fire.”
Krell is now telling CNN: “The information I gave you was true based on my memories, but at this point I am questioning my memories.”
The change in testimony led CNN’s Brian Stelter to write: “What initially looked like an account that supported some of Brian Williams’ war story — that he came ‘under fire’ that day — no longer appears to be true.”
Williams and his network, until this week, had said the helicopter had been hit by an RPG and forced down during the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq. Following pushback from soldiers who were there, Williams apologized Wednesday. [Do read/listen to NPR’s David Folkenflik on Williams’ self-inflicted war wounds.]
The story is the latest twist to the scandal that has tarnished the reputation of the NBC news anchor, and it comes the same day The New Orleans Advocate raised doubts about Williams’ claim during his reporting of Hurricane Katrina. Williams had said he saw a body float by in the French Quarter, a part of the city that had remained largely dry during the 2005 storm that devastated the city.
In a 2006 interview, Williams had this to say about what he saw in New Orleans:
“When you look out of your hotel window in the French Quarter and watch a man float by face down, when you see bodies that you last saw in Banda Aceh, Indonesia, and swore to yourself that you would never see in your country.”
[New York magazine has a breakdown of how that account evolved over the years.]
And last year he told Tom Brokaw, his predecessor at NBC, that he had “accidentally ingested some of the floodwater … [and become] very sick with dysentery.”
The New Orleans Advocate reports, “the French Quarter, the original high ground of New Orleans, was not impacted by the floodwaters that overwhelmed the vast majority of the city.”
And the city’s former health director told the newspaper that while he was a fan of Williams, he was skeptical about his claims of contracting dysentery.
“I 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,” Dr. Brobson Lutz told the newspaper.
As to Williams’ claim that he drank floodwater and became sick, 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.”
There were, however, fears of dysentery after the storm, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported “clusters of diarrheal disease.”
And it is probably worth noting here that much of the reporting after Hurricane Katrina, from many different news organizations and reporters, focused on bodies, gangs, looting and illness — reporting that was later shown to be exaggerated or false.