Bozell Column: Brian Williams, From Musketeer to Mouseketeer

The fifth anniversary of Hurricane Katrina recalls a horror show on two levels. There’s the actual disaster which killed hundreds of people – and then there’s the media smear job on the Bush administration and first responders. No one should forget pompous grandstanders like “NBC Nightly News” anchor Brian Williams signing off three months after the floods from the Lower Ninth Ward:  "This is a neighborhood that's been left to die."

How those network anchors loved hurricane hyperbole! Williams, for one, lectured the nation that the hurricane should “necessitate a national discussion on race, on oil, politics, class, infrastructure, the environment, and more.” He underlined that a top local radio station decided not to air President Bush’s remarks from the city since “nothing he could say could ever help them deal with the dire situation unfolding live in the streets of New Orleans, where people were still dying during his visit."

It never mattered to these nattering nabobs that, as Popular Mechanics magazine documented, Katrina spurred by far the largest and fastest rescue effort in American history, with nearly 100,000 emergency personnel arriving on the scene within three days of the storm's landfall, rescuing an estimated 50,000 residents.

Not content to attack Bush on just his own program, Williams took to comedy shows to unload more spin. He lectured to Jon Stewart on how cities less black than New Orleans would have seen a lot more helicopter rescues. Williams proudly took that attack directly to Bush three months after the storm. "After the tragedy, I heard someone ask rhetorically, 'What if this had been Nantucket, Massachusetts, or Inner Harbor Baltimore or Chicago or Houston?' Are you convinced the response would have been the same? Was there any social or class or race aspect to the response?"

On the first anniversary of Katrina, Williams repeated the mudslinging, citing radical-left black professor Michael Eric Dyson in Bush’s face: “A lot of Americans are always going to believe that that weekend, that week, you were watching something on television other than what they were seeing, and Professor Dyson from the University of Pennsylvania said on our broadcast last night it was because of your patrician upbringing, that it's a class issue." Bush shot back: “Dyson doesn't know. I don't know Dyson, and Dyson doesn't know me.”

But Williams didn’t care. His cartoon was perfect.

Williams later appeared on PBS and boasted “You can’t give distance. I don't mean that in a Jets vs. Sharks way. I'm not an adversary.” That’s laughable. He insisted Bush “appreciates the swordfight of a crackling good conversation.”

Now watch Williams “swordfight” with Barack Obama. He’s gone from musketeer to Mouseketeer. On the fifth anniversary of the hurricane, Williams deferred to the statesman before him by asking about the lack of a national conversation: “Katrina was about so many things. It was about class and race and government and the environment. Whatever happened to that national conversation we were supposed to have about it?"

Is that all the toughness Williams could muster? That’s how he “crackles” now? See his crackling swordfight over the BP oil spill and Obama’s lack of effort: “It's getting baked in a little bit in the media that BP was President Obama's Katrina. And it's also getting baked in that the administration was slow off the mark. Is that unfair?"

What about our disastrous economy? Surely Williams would challenge Obama here. “Do you have anything new on the economy?”

Instead of tough questions, Williams felt Obama’s pain that too many Americans misunderstand his religious faith: “Mr. President, you're an American-born Christian, and yet increasing and now significant numbers of Americans in polls, upwards of a fifth of respondents, are claiming you are neither. A fifth of the people, just about, believe you're a Muslim....This has to be troubling to you. This is, of course, all new territory for an American president.”

That’s not even a question! But it’s all in a day’s shoeshine for Brian Williams. He loved slinging “racist, classist” mud on Bush, but he was so distraught by Obama’s-a-Muslim rumors that he replayed the poor-Barry exchange a second time the next night.

Why is this arrogant partisan the leading evening-news anchor in America? He drew 7.2 million viewers last week, as the ratings continue to decline. That’s not unexpected when an anchorman can’t be bothered to ask tougher questions to this president than his makeup artist would.

Brent Bozell
Brent Bozell
Brent Bozell is the Founder and President of the Media Research Center