It didn’t take long for viewers to give up on Brian Williams.
His nightly newscast on NBC was beaten soundly in the ratings by ABC’s “World News Tonight” on Friday, two days after Williams apologized for repeating a false story about being in a helicopter hit by a grenade in Iraq 12 years ago, according to Nielsen.
And now, the anchor’s famous anecdote about seeing a dead body float past his hotel during Hurricane Katrina is back under the microscope. The story had been challenged by some New Orleans locals who said the area where Williams was staying wasn’t flooded.
The former general manager of the Ritz-Carlton New Orleans, where Williams said he stayed while covering Katrina, insists there’s no way bodies could’ve been floating past his hotel room during the storm, as the anchor claimed, reports Page Six.
“There is no physical way the water was deep enough for a body to float in,” Myra deGersdorff told The Times-Picayune on Sunday.
In a 2006 interview with Disney CEO Michael Eisner, Williams told a tale of watching a dead body float past his hotel window after the levees broke.
“When you look out of your hotel room window in the French Quarter and watch a man float by face down, when you see bodies that you last saw in Banda Aceh, Indonesia, and swore to yourself that you would never see in your country,” he said.
Skeptics have said the French Quarter remained relatively dry after the hurricane hit because it sits on higher ground — while others have insisted that the streets around the Ritz, which is technically one block away from that neighborhood, did flood.
But deGersdorff insisted that she never saw any bodies floating by the posh hotel — though its underground basement briefly flooded. The first floor was under 6 to 8 inches of water, she said.
“I don’t know what Brian Williams saw or didn’t see, but I for sure didn’t see any bodies floating,” deGersdorff said. Other hotel employees didn’t spot any bodies either, she added.
DeGersdorff now works as a chief human resources officer in Scottsdale, Arizona. In 2011, she filed a lawsuit against the Ritz-Carlton Hotel, claiming she was a victim of gender discrimination, according to The Louisiana Record.
Meanwhile, ABC’s “World News Tonight” on Friday had 8.46 million viewers on Friday, while NBC’s “Nightly News” had just under 8 million with Williams in the chair.
While it’s not unusual for ABC to win some individual days in the ratings, NBC has been consistently winning on a week-to-week basis. On the previous Friday evening, ABC also won in the ratings by almost 400,000 viewers. News of Williams’ Iraq tale came out on Wednesday of last week.
Williams said last Saturday he was taking himself off the air. In a memo to staff, he said the decision was his own.
“In the midst of a career spent covering and consuming news, it has become painfully apparent to me that I am presently too much a part of the news, due to my actions,” he wrote. Williams, who is also managing editor of “NBC Nightly News,” said Lester Holt, the weekend anchor for NBC’s newscast, would take his place.
“Upon my return, I will continue my career-long effort to be worthy of the trust of those who place their trust in us,” Williams said. He didn’t say when he would resume anchor duties.
On Friday, NBC News President Deborah Turness said in a staff memo the network was launching in inquiry into Williams that would look at not only the Iraq story but other reports of his as well, including his work covering Katrina.