Reporting from South Africa on Tuesday's NBC Today about the memorial ceremony for Nelson Mandela, Nightly News anchor Brian Williams noted how the "dignitary section has some criminals, some thieves, some kings, some presidents" and that "Several have been life-long sworn enemies." He then proclaimed that President Obama's "handshake with [Cuban leader] Raul Castro was one of the better moments." [Listen to the audio or watch the video after the jump]
Williams gushed that oppressive dictators sitting side by side with democratically elected leaders of the free world was somehow part of Mandela's legacy: "What would Nelson Mandela say to all of them and say to all of this? Most of the speakers have urged the crowd, 'Go on, behave like him, live like him, be infused with his spirit going forward and maybe we could get some place.'"
In a report preceding Williams, correspondent Lester Holt declared that the memorial had "a collection of world leaders like we've never seen on one stage" and "made for some quite eye-opening and remarkable images, including President Obama shaking the hand of Cuba's Raul Castro." Moments later, Holt announced: "Leaders the world over converged here. More than 70 in all. The delegation from the United States led by President Obama included former presidents George W. Bush, Bill Clinton, and Jimmy Carter. The measure of Mandela so great, America's presidents shared a stage with Cuban leader Raul Castro."
Neither Williams nor Holt suggested the presence of so many prominent "criminals" and "thieves" negatively impacted the event.
Here is a full transcript of Williams on the December 10 program:
SAVANNAH GUTHRIE: Let's bring in NBC's Brian Williams, who's also in Soweto outside Mandela's house. Brian, good morning to you.
BRIAN WILLIAMS: Good morning, Savannah.
GUTHRIE: I have to say, as much as I'm struck by the assortment of world leaders that are there, I'm even more moved by the tens of thousands of South Africans who have come despite a pouring rain this morning. What is your sense of the meaning of this moment for them?
WILLIAMS: Well, I'm kind of with Lester on this, in viewing this as a real victory in a lot of ways. Just look at the crowd and look at the mix of people which was, of course, illegal at the start of this era. Look at what South Africa has pulled off, being handed 100 official delegations. The tens of thousands of regular people who just wanted to be a part of this. And then mother nature had something to say about this whole gathering. It's been a Herculean, monumental task. After all, they are saying good-bye to their George Washington, really, for the modern era. The man who gave birth to the modern South Africa. So when you consider all of that, what a day for this country. This memorial goes on, of course, into the next several days until the final farewell coming up this coming Sunday.
GUTHRIE: And as Lester mentioned, this is perhaps an unprecedented meeting of world leaders, and for a moment it made for strange bedfellows. We saw President Obama, of course, shake the hand of Cuba's leader Raul Castro. Tell us what the mood has been like in the ceremonies so far?
WILLIAMS: Well, let's not be overly nice about this. That dignitary section has some criminals, some thieves, some kings, some presidents, a lot of different types of people. And there has been a lot written and said about where to seat them so they keep their distances. Several factions are not speaking to each other. Several have been life-long sworn enemies. As Lester noted, the President's handshake with Raul Castro was one of the better moments. The crowd's reception for Robert Mugabe was interesting. So again, what would Nelson Mandela say to all of them and say to all of this? Most of the speakers have urged the crowd, "Go on, behave like him, live like him, be infused with his spirit going forward and maybe we could get some place."
GUTHRIE: Brian Williams in Soweto for us this morning. Thank you so much. And of course We know Brian's going to have a lot more throughout the day on nbcnews.com and also on Nightly News tonight.