Brian Williams Misremembers Art History

We're investigating Brian Williams's other historical claims.

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Brian Williams in Chris Burden's Shoot (1971). Photo: Photoshopped by Sarah Cascone.
Brian Williams in Chris Burden's Shoot (1971). Photo: Photoshopped by Sarah Cascone.
Brian Williams in Chris Burden's Shoot (1971).

NBC news anchor Brian Williams has been suspended without pay for six months after acknowledging that he “misremembered” having been in a helicopter forced to land after being struck by enemy fire in Iraq in 2003.

Williams, 55, was the anchor for the most-viewed evening news show, with some 9.3 million viewers a night, and had become something of an entertainer himself, appearing on programs such as Saturday Night Live, 30 Rock, and The Late Show with David Letterman, where he made the discredited claim in 2013.

His initial 2003 report said that the helicopter ahead of his was forced down by a rocket-propelled grenade. In later interviews, he said that enemy fire forced his own craft to crash-land. Six days ago, after veterans protested to the Stars and Stripes newspaper, he admitted that his claim was false and apologized on air.

Ironically, the news came the same day that Jon Stewart announced that he will end his sixteen-year run as the host of The Daily Show. Comedy Central’s satirical news program has become, for many young viewers, a more trusted source than traditional network shows. Naturally, the Internet exploded with suggestions that Williams take the helm.

NBC, as well as the media generally, has launched a full-scale investigation of Williams’s other assertions, for example that he saw bodies floating by in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.

We’re now looking into some of Williams’s other claims as it relates to our field of expertise. Was he really involved with the Spanish resistance to Napoleonic forces in 1808, commemorated in Goya’s masterpiece The Third of May, 1808? In light of recent developments, can we actually believe that he had a friend shoot him in the arm as an art project in 1971, à la Chris Burden? Is it still credible that he was shot through with arrows in A.D. 288, martyred for his Christian faith, in an event that became a meme spread by artists such as Andrea Mantegna, El Greco, Andrea Mantegna and many other artists?

artnet News will publish a full report on our investigation as soon as it is complete.

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