Brian Williams’ NBC Nightly News Ripped Off Too

NBC News’ Brian Williams became a national story last Thursday.  For readers not up to speed, the recent trouble began with a January 30 post on NBC Nightly News’ Facebook page.  Embedded in the post was a short video clip of Nightly News where Williams claimed that during the 2003 U.S. invasion of Iraq, he was on board a helicopter that was forced to land in the desert because it was struck by a rocket-propelled grenade (RPG).

This was not the story Williams related in 2003 where he stated that he rode in a helicopter behind the one hit by the RPG.  Other news organizations uncovered evidence that Williams has been steadily embellishing his original account over the past twelve years.

By Friday, a number of outlets revealed (e.g., here,  here, here,) that Williams also likely lied about his time covering Hurricane Katrina, claiming that he saw a body float by him in the floodwaters of the French Quarter and that he contracted dysentery from the floodwaters. Against the State: An ... Rockwell Jr., Llewelly... Best Price: $5.02 Buy New $5.52 (as of 11:35 EST - Details)

The problem?  There were no floodwaters in the French Quarter at the time of Katrina.  Said Dr. Brobson Lutz, a former New Orleans health director who worked at an EMS station in the Quarter during Katrina, “It was never wet…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.”

Then came some hilarious and suspicious stories given by Williams over the years about saving either one or two puppies from a burning house.

Now let’s talk about the run-in that (LRC) had with NBC Nightly News.  On 29 July 2013, LRC published a formidable looking 101-year-old exam sent in by a reader that was once administered to eighth graders in Bullitt County, Kentucky.  Jezebel posted an item that same day and gave credit to LRC at the top and bottom of its post.  Daily Mail picked it up from Jezebel and credited LRC as well.

NBC Nightly News came across the exam on Jezebel and contacted LRC for the image file of the exam and permission to use it on their 2 August broadcast.  The following is the e-mail exchange that ensued between LRC and NBC Nightly News:

Name: Julie Morse
Subject: NBC Nightly News request- URGENT

Message: Fascism versus Capitalism Llewellyn H. Rockwell Jr. Best Price: $3.39 Buy New $7.45 (as of 05:45 EST - Details)

Good Afternoon,

We are looking for permission to use photos from “Can You Pass This 101-Year-Old Test for 8th Graders in Kentucky?” article for our broadcast tomorrow. Could you please let me know either way! And, if we can use them – could you send me the .jpeg format? Thanks so much

IP Address:

Referrer URL:

Timestamp: 08/01/2013

The response from LRC was:

From: John Keller
Sent: Thursday, August 01, 2013 5:25 PM
To: Morse, Julie (NBCUniversal); Lew Rockwell
Subject: Re: Contact Form Inquiry

Hi Julie,  The Left, the Right, a... Rockwell Jr., Llewelly... Best Price: null Buy New $2.99 (as of 01:00 EST - Details)

The JPG is attached. Please let us know what else you need. 


John Keller

Then came Julie’s response:

On Fri, Aug 2, 2013 at 10:00 AM, Morse, Julie (NBCUniversal) wrote:

Thank you very much!

To this John Keller replied:

From: John Keller
Date: Fri, Aug 2, 2013 at 10:59 AM
Subject: Re: Contact Form Inquiry
To: “Morse, Julie (NBCUniversal)”

Our pleasure – would love to know when you plan to air, and see a URL if you are cross-posting. 

Best, John Keller

I had seen the original LRC posting and Jezebel and Daily Mail crediting LRC.

When Nightly News aired 2 August 2013, I was absolutely stunned to see that not only had LRC been shamelessly stiffed of credit, but Williams flagrantly and ostentatiously credited Jezebel in its place, prominently displaying the Jezebel logo on screen but scrolling the image file sent by LRC (confirmed by John Keller).  Here’s the video (with the money moment beginning at 0:30) :

This seemed to be nothing less than a flat-out middle finger extended into LRC’s face practically accompanied by a, “[Blank] you.  What are you going to do about it?”

In response I called out Williams and NBC in a column afterward but neither I nor anyone at LRC ever heard anything back from anyone at NBCUniversal.  It appeared to be the most flagrant intended theft of material and deliberate misconduct I had ever seen from any professional news organization, never mind a major one.

(To be clear, during a number of searches I conducted after writing the column, I found that WaPo’s Answer Sheet published an article on both the Kentucky exam and one from West Virginia back in January 2012, but it didn’t get much traction.  In fact, awareness of the Kentucky exam only seemed to really take off after LRC’s posting.  But none of this changes what NBC News knew at the time or did.)

Here was Keller’s response to my column:

Date: Fri, 9 Aug 2013 10:09:05 -0400
Subject: Fwd: Contact Form Inquiry
To: dsteinreich; lewrockwell

Wow – missed this, and great article Dale. Regarding that NBC Story. Note the crickets, and that these toads KNEW it came from LRC, and not Jezebel. Ugh. 

After viewing all the evidence again, he noted:

Looked at the Jezebel article, and LRC is called out at the top and the bottom. There’s no way you can overlook the attribution. The JPG’s they ran in the segment are the original long ones ones I supplied, NOT the Jezebel ones which are re-formatted wide, side by side. They went out of their way to NOT cite LRC.

Complete journalistic misconduct. Revolting.

It’s hard to see how NBC News can spin the LRC incident as some innocent accident or oversight.  How on earth could Jezebel get it right, Daily Mail get it right, and yet legendary colossus NBC Nightly News see it on Jezebel, contact LRC, and yet credit Jezebel?  I sense a small, petty mind coupled with an obnoxious ego at work, and the suspect isn’t Julie Morse.

I understand that NBC News doesn’t like LRC’s libertarian perspective and that Brian is a devout mainstream progressive and Hillary-Clinton fan.  But this isn’t about politics but basic integrity.  The fact remains that NBC News requested and used (some would say knowingly stole) materials it perceived as exclusive.  One has to wonder how many other people this has happened to.

Unless Julie is some sort of Jekyll and Hyde, it looks like she wanted to give credit and was doing a meticulous job of trying to give it.  At the time, Julie was Brian’s desk assistant at NBC Nightly News.  On the other hand, Brian Williams was and still is the anchor and managing editor of Nightly News.

In other words, it doesn’t appear that there were a lot of middlemen or women working between Julie and Brian.  Given the crickets we’ve heard since the run in, it still seems reasonable to keep Brian as the main person of interest if not chief suspect.

If Brian was indeed the culprit, then NBC’s current decision over whether to retain him as an anchor probably just got a lot easier.  It would then be a no-brainer, guys and gals.  What else would you need to see?