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All Media Considered

Credit: Kristine Deppe

The World According to Brian Williams

A look back at the dethroned NBC Nightly News anchor’s storied history, in his own words.

The story actually started with a terrible moment a dozen years back during the invasion of Iraq when the helicopter we were traveling in was forced down after being hit by an RPG. Our traveling NBC News team was rescued, surrounded, and kept alive by an armored mechanized platoon from the US Army 3rd Infantry. —Brian Williams, Jan. 30, 2015

I took over coverage of the 1996 Olympics from Bob Costas after he contracted a difficult eye infection. It must have been the final day of the women’s gymnastics team competition because I remember everyone on the team was wearing their signature green zebra spandex stretch pants.

For the first time in Olympic history, the American women’s team was positioned to usurp the Russian incumbents, but a slip-up earlier in the day threatened our chance for gold. Kerri Strug’s final vault was our only way to win. After injuring her ankle after the first vault attempt, though, it seemed as if all hope was lost. America hadn’t come this far to leave with nothing and, frankly, neither had I. When she reached the end of the runway in preparation for her second attempt, her eyes locked with mine, and I knew what I had to do. “Kerri” I said, “There comes a time in every person’s life when they are faced with a choice. Right now, in this moment, you can choose either to be heralded as one of the greatest sports icons of all time or you can be lambasted on social media as an emblem of failure.” Shame can be a powerful motivator.

 

Back in 1993 when I was still a young journalist, I had just started my position as NBC’s White House correspondent when I first met Al Gore. I immediately took a liking to the guy. We traded light gossip on the Hill, hit the green a few times, maybe cracked a joke or two behind ol’ Bill’s back. And then we really got to talking. We asked ourselves, “What could change the world for the better while also advancing our own self-interests?” And that’s when we looked at each other and just knew.

I could see Al using the PowerPoint slides I had created and him passing them off as his own.

It took years of planning, of stealing nights and weekends, Skype meetings when one of us was away, in-person meetings on the rare occasions we could. It was like we were in our own little world, ready to make a real difference, until, of course, he betrayed me. It came out in the 2006 documentary An Inconvenient Truth when I could see Al using the PowerPoint slides I had created and him passing them off as his own. Remember those flawless slow fades and checkerboard changeovers? That was me. The tasteful elegance of the Cerulean blue background? All me. Together we had visualized how we would change the world one motivational seminar at a time, but unfortunately the world is indifferent to those without an executive producer byline. I concede to the fact that he did invent the internet, though, so good on him or whatever.

 

With the advent of computerized program trading of commodified financial instruments popularized by Wall Street hedge funds combined with an increasing over-reliance on portfolio insurance strategies that capitalized on the temporal and probabilistic nature of a transaction that involved no negative cash flow exacerbated by the quantitative market illiquidity of certain assets due to lack of management and regulation and thwarted by both the heuristic disposition of the average market investor and the widespread hedonistic tendencies imputed to the 1980s, I tried to warn everybody but no one would believe me.

 

For a week in July of 1969, I was granted full access to the Kennedy Space Center on Merritt Island as the first—on-the-lunar-surface, if you will—news correspondent to report on America’s mission to the moon.

Neil Armstrong was one of my closest friends at the time, and I could not be prouder of his bravery.

It was a historic day for all of us but it felt especially poignant for me. Neil Armstrong was one of my closest friends at the time, and I could not be prouder of his bravery and service to our country. He was a brilliant aeronautical engineer, a true patriot, and sincerely excited for all of life’s possibilities. Good thing he told me what he had planned to say in advance of the trip because our first words on the moon might have been: “I’m on the moon, motherfucker!”

 

The story actually starts when I was stationed at the Wall in the North. We had heard the night before from war correspondent Jon Snow that Mance Rayder and his pack of wildling raiders approached us from the south, set on storming Castle Black. Outnumbered and ill-equipped, we steadied ourselves atop our craggy fortress, preparing for the attack. What I saw with my own eyes you would have had to see for yourselves. Giant wooly mammoths charged across the frozen tundra; Thenn warriors with teeth as sharp as razors scaled the Wall with inhuman speed. If Samwell Tarly had not come bounding up on the back of a Direwolf to rescue me from the imminent clutches of a White Walker, I’m sure I’d be dead or worse.

That night, I pledged my life and honor to the Night’s Watch and for all the nights to come.

 

Back in the early ’70s while in Boston I was invited to a conference at Faneuil Hall that promised to revolutionize my life. Having already earned hundreds of millions from NBC and a Peabody Award to boot, I found that a little high-reaching, but nevertheless I went. When I arrived, the people there buzzed with a kind of heady excitement, although about what, I didn’t know. It was hard to tell whether the people walking around were customers of the open marketplace, employees of the Commonwealth, or just limited-government enthusiasts. I asked a young Bill O’Reilly what exactly was going on, and with the most earnest smile he responded, “We stand at the precipice of a new beginning.”

When I pressed further about what exactly it was the group was promoting, he rattled off an array of seemingly unrelated products: a weight-loss herbal tea, some kind of customizable tax software, and matchlock muskets. When I asked if it was necessary to buy one of these things in order to become a member, he said all I would need to do to become a Son of Liberty was to recruit new members. I left immediately.

 

In August of 410, I was assigned as an embedded bard to an elite team of Visigothic insurgents led by Alaric the First. Our mission was to negotiate a truce. Just minutes after arriving at our pre-arranged location along the Tiber, however, we were attacked by a group of enemy infidels led by Roman ally and defected Goth, Sarus. We suffered heavy javelin airstrikes that crippled our frontlines. I remember I looked down at my bleeding leg and had to yank a shiv right out of my own thigh. Having barely survived the attack, our fearless leader vowed to burn that eternal city to the ground—but how, we wondered? Who could possibly open those iron-wrought gates, forged of Valyrian steel? It wasn’t even three seconds before I volunteered to swing open those gates myself with what can only be described as the strength of a thousand Huns. Years later, after the collapse of the Holy Roman Empire, I mysteriously received a piece of the Colosseum, which I can only imagine was a token of gratitude for my valor.

 

My face launched a thousand ships.