Washington Post Questions Brian Williams’ Katrina “Criminal Gangs” Story

This makes me wonder: if Brian Williams could believe he was able to trot out these whoppers on a constant basis, who else in the news media does the same?

Questioning Brian Williams’s claims that ‘gangs’ terrorized the Ritz-Carlton during Katrina

There’s a story Brian Williams likes to tell. He has told it in a TV interview. He has told it to at least two book authors. But even though it had all the makings of a great yarn — danger, guns, resolve — Williams never reported it to his viewers.

It’s the one about the gangs that Williams claimed had “overrun” a posh Ritz-Carlton where he stayed during Hurricane Katrina.

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Williams is an, as WP writer Terrence McCoy terms it, hibernation mode following the revelations regarding his adventures in a military helicopter that was shot down in Iraq, how he “stared down the barrel of an RPG”, which all turned out to be untrue. Stories he told again and again and again.

…few stories illustrated that predilection to talk more than his takes on Katrina — the stories with which he made his bones. But now some of them are taking heat.

Among them: The one he told about witnessing a suicide at the Superdome. Or the one he told about watching a body float past the Ritz-Carlton, perched at the edge of an otherwise dry French Quarter. Or the one about the dysentery he said he got. And, finally, the story he told about the Ritz-Carlton gangs. Three separate sources told reporters no gangs infiltrated the Ritz-Carlton.

Go ahead and read the rest of the Washington Post story for the full details, which, at best, show that Williams significantly embellished his narrative, at worst, simply made it up. Some report that there were a few nutjobs, possibly thugs, in the hotel, but not “criminal gangs”.

He eventually made a break for it, “wading” out into what is described as “two feet of floodwater, barely able to stand.” In front of the hotel, a violent confrontation loomed. “A gang was waiting on the streetcar tracks in front of the Ritz, ready go ‘smash and grab,’ as Williams put it, to take the vehicle.” Some Louisiana National Guardsmen then materialized to confront the marauders and ensure the “NBC trio didn’t get their escape vehicle hijacked. ‘They aimed weapons at the men on the street,’ Williams recalled. ‘Then we were on our own.’” Somehow, Williams said he soldiered on, making all of his broadcasts.

While it seems possible, because there darned sure were lots of “criminal gangs”, and just plain thugs running around New Orleans, Governor Blanco did such a poor job before, during, and after Katrina that having the National Guard at the hotel is rather unbelievable.

It’s difficult to tell what actually happened at the hotel. The Ritz-Carlton hasn’t commented much. It’s possible gangs overtook the hotel, brandished guns and terrorized the people inside. It’s possible Williams confronted a gang bent on stealing his car when he emerged from the hotel. But it’s also possible this was another case of what the American Journalism Review called “myth-making in New Orleans.”

You know what’s also strange? These kinds of issues, these “myths”, never occurred in Mississippi, which was hit very hard by Katrina. All 82 of Mississippi’s counties were declared federal disaster areas. The eye wall did not pass over New Orleans, but over Miss. cities. It was hit with a 27 foot storm surge that traveled up to 6 miles inland. Mississippi took the brunt of the right side of the hurricane, typically said to be the worst side. Yet, no “myths” or outlandish stories.

Interestingly, none of Brian Williams’ claims actually appeared on tape at the time they happened.

Crossed at Pirate’s Cove. Follow me on Twitter @WilliamTeach.

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