The Sins of Brian Williams

NBC anchor Brian Williams just makes stuff up, and the world is shocked – but, then again, if you’ve been a regular reader of, you already knew what a liar he is.

The Twitteratti are in a tizzy over Williams’ blatant fibbery: he’s been telling the same story for years, all about how he was in a helicopter over Iraq that came under attack and he feared for his life. "I was in a place I had no business being," he said the other day, reiterating the lie and even embellishing it. This was too much for those soldiers who had actually been there, and they quickly debunked his tall tale: Stars and Stripes got a hold of it, and Williams was soon issuing groveling-yet-incomplete apologies, claiming he’d "misremembered" the incident. The Twitter mob then descended – but what are they complaining about? After all, this is the very least of the lies Williams has told on air – and, as far as I’m concerned, the least egregious.

Way back in 2007, I pointed out the pernicious role Williams played in the run-up to the Iraq war, loyally echoing the War Party’s triumphalist nonsense. Citing Howard Kurtz’s 2007 book, Reality Show: Inside the Last Great Television News War, I pointed out in this space that Williams was a reliable foot soldier in the neocons’ war on truth. As Kurtz put it:

"For [Brian] Williams, it all went back to 9/11. As a citizen, he had thought on that fateful day, thank God that Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld and Colin Powell were on this team. How together we all seemed. In Williams’s view, there was something about the murderous attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon that, in the eyes of the White House press corps, gave Bush a stature that could not be violated."

Williams, said Kurtz, doesn’t "enjoy looking back on the run-up to war," perhaps because he realizes his own key role in making the whole disaster possible. Now there’s a clue as to what motivated him to "misremember" made-up fantasies of personal heroism. It’s all part of the same cover-up: layers of glamorous lies to hide the prosaic reality.

He might have partially redeemed himself in his postwar (2006) interview with President Bush, but he chose not to do that. When Dubya stuck to his justifications for the war by stupidly insisting Iraq had "the capacity" to build WMD, Williams let it slide. When Bush denied ever claiming a connection between Iraq and the 9/11 attacks, Williams said … nothing.

And as the war dragged on, the cover-up continued. As Kurtz wrote:

"Every day, Williams asked the question: Did Baghdad correspondent Richard Engel have any news other than another twenty Iraqi civilians killed when an IED detonated, leaving the same smoking carcasses and pathetic scenes of loved ones crying?"

Although Williams acknowledged "how deeply the war had divided the country," Kurtz informed us: "No one in their right mind, [Williams] believed, would want America to pull out tomorrow. He did not want America to withdraw from Iraq." Of course he didn’t: he and the rest of the flag lapel pin-wearing "mainstream" media had too much invested in the War Party’s success.

As the indispensable Scott Horton of Antiwar Radio put it at the time:

"You are the one who has been doing the misleading. You are the one."

The Williams record in covering up the sickening horrors wreaked by the US military in its never-ending campaign to re-order the world to Washington’s liking goes way back. When NATO jet fighters bombed a passenger train in Serbia – by "mistake" – killing a dozen and wounding dozens more, Williams intoned that visuals of the train attack "are so graphic that we cannot show them on television for fear of upsetting viewers."

Hear no evil, see no evil, speak no evil – that’s how the trained monkeys of our "mainstream" media treat the depredations of US imperialism: there’s no need to "upset" the delicate sensibilities of Americans, who might be disabused of their rulers’ beneficence. Better to view these crimes through the Vaseline-covered lens of a committed shill. Williams isn’t a reporter: he’s a cosmetician, whose job it is to prettify the ugly truth.

In 2003, as the neocons were crowing that the war they’d spent the last decade ginning up was a triumph, Williams was joining the chorus:

"They are calling this the cleanest war in all of military history. They stress they’re fighting a regime and not the people, using smart bombs, not dumb, older munitions. But there have been and will be accidents."

By the end of it, hundreds of thousands of Iraqi civilians had been slaughtered – by "accident," no doubt.

Not content to cheerlead from the sidelines, Williams played the role of a scout eagerly pointing out potential targets:

"… And there’s a new weapon in this war: Arab media, especially al-Jazeera. It’s on all the time, and unlike American media, it hardly reflects the Pentagon line. Its critics say it accentuates civilian casualties and provokes outrage on the Arab street."

A week later a US missile struck a generator at Al Jazeera’s Baghdad office, killing one reporter and wounding another.

Williams has no regrets about his role as the War Party’s propagandist, and he’s consistently played the same role in regard to Iran. Even as the US and Iran made the first moves toward what is today seen as a very promising negotiation, Williams declared:

"This is all part of a new leadership effort by Iran – suddenly claiming they don’t want nuclear weapons!; what they want is talks and transparency and good will. And while that would be enough to define a whole new era, skepticism is high and there’s a good reason for it.”

This statement is complete hogwash, as Glenn Greenwald demonstrated with characteristic thoroughness in this Guardian piece. Tehran has routinely disdained nukes as un-Islamic. The real job of Williams, and of his "mainstream" media buddies, isn’t to enlighten their audiences with facts but to keep them in the dark – so that when our rulers decide to press the button marked "war," we’ll all respond like we’re supposed to.

One could write an entire book about how Williams is nothing more than a government megaphone, along with his network, NBC. One chapter in that book would be the story of the Pentagon program of promoting "military analysts," such as Gen. Barry McCaffrey, who appeared on NBC and other networks to give the government-approved "spin" to events in Iraq. Williams covered that one up as long as he could, and then issued a perfunctory denial.

The man, in short, is a confirmed liar – but the confirmation took place years before being caught out in this latest prevarication.

What’s more: Williams is not alone in his fraudulence. His "mainstream" media colleagues are largely complicit in the systematic deception that they call "reporting," and are no more adversarial in their relationship with the political powers-that-be than the Soviet media was in relation to the Kremlin.

This is precisely why we founded – why we had to start it, nurture it, and work like hell to keep it afloat. Because when it comes to reporting the crimes of our rulers, the Fourth Estate is really just the fourth branch of government.


You can check out my Twitter feed by going here. But please note that my tweets are sometimes deliberately provocative, often made in jest, and largely consist of me thinking out loud.

I’ve written a couple of books, which you might want to peruse. Here is the link for buying the second edition of my 1993 book, Reclaiming the American Right: The Lost Legacy of the Conservative Movement, with an Introduction by Prof. George W. Carey, a Foreword by Patrick J. Buchanan, and critical essays by Scott Richert and David Gordon (ISI Books, 2008).

You can buy An Enemy of the State: The Life of Murray N. Rothbard (Prometheus Books, 2000), my biography of the great libertarian thinker, here.

Author: Justin Raimondo

Justin Raimondo passed away on June 27, 2019. He was the co-founder and editorial director of, and was a senior fellow at the Randolph Bourne Institute. He was a contributing editor at The American Conservative, and wrote a monthly column for Chronicles. He was the author of Reclaiming the American Right: The Lost Legacy of the Conservative Movement [Center for Libertarian Studies, 1993; Intercollegiate Studies Institute, 2000], and An Enemy of the State: The Life of Murray N. Rothbard [Prometheus Books, 2000].