NEW YORK—Although he is the most watched and widely recognized newscaster on American network television, NBC Nightly News anchor Brian Williams continues to be plagued with crippling self-doubt, admitting Monday that he would look to "just about anyone else" for in-depth analysis of the latest national and international news before himself.
Williams barely holds it together while introducing a segment on prescription-drug prices in America.
"There are times when I truly believe that for solid, up-to-the-minute coverage that goes beyond the headlines to make sense of the events that shape our world, Americans are better off asking literally any random person on the street," the 46-year-old broadcaster said.
Williams was dismissive of the fact that, as the former chief White House correspondent and host of The News With Brian Williams on MSNBC and later CNBC, he was the clear choice to replace retiring Nightly News anchor Tom Brokaw, alleging that, "at least Brokaw knew what the fuck he was doing half the time."
"More Americans tune in to NBC Nightly News than any other network news show. Don't they know I'm on against World News Tonight, with Elizabeth Vargas? She's really got her shit together," said Williams, who characterized his prestigious, nearly quarter-century career in television news as "a complete fluke" and "certainly not anything that had to do with me."
Williams, who has been hailed as the new dean of network news journalists by several prominent TV critics and attacked as a "giant phony" by his own mind, is confident of only one thing: When breaking news happens, viewers can count on Brian Williams to be at a total loss as to why, out of all the other television journalists available, he was chosen to deliver it.
"What business did I have in Banda Aceh after the 2004 tsunami, trying to give viewers a sense of the overwhelming catastrophe that had just taken place?" Williams said. "I couldn't even figure out how to button that stupid little khaki vest, let alone trying to put into perspective the incalculable loss of one of history's most horrendous disasters."
Known for his relentless pursuit of the truth, particularly when standing before his bathroom mirror each morning, Williams has a long track record of asking the tough questions other news anchors are unwilling to ask themselves. Among his most hard-hitting inquiries include, "Brian Williams, who do you think you are, anyway?" and "Do you have any idea just how much you suck?"
"Last night, we explored the misappropriation of federal funds during our 'Fleecing Of America' segment," Williams said. "Do you know what would've made a better subject? 'Brian Williams: The Sham To End All Shams.'"
While Williams' insecurities may come as a surprise to viewers who regularly watch the outwardly calm and confident newsman, those behind the scenes at NBC Nightly News are all too aware of the anchor's lack of self-confidence.
"I used to like the fact that Brian wasn't arrogant and smug like some other on-air personalities I've dealt with," said Eve Hodel, a makeup specialist who works on several NBC News shows. "But his constant need for validation is tiring. I try my best to reassure him that his reports are balanced, articulate, and thought-provoking, but he never believes it."
Nightly News intern Jared Kampmann echoed Hodel's observation. "This morning, he asked me if his piece on the looming threat of war with Iran was 'Brokaw-worthy,'"said Kampmann. "And once, he called me into his darkened office and said in this low voice that I was just as qualified as he was to deliver the news. It's awkward running into him now."
Many accolades, including three Emmys and several honorary degrees, have done little to increase Williams' faith in himself. As he prepares his acceptance speech for the June 5 Peabody Awards ceremony, Williams plans to single out 37 different television journalists who he feels are more deserving of the honor, including two junior-college journalism students, and five reporters who have been dead for more than 20 years.
"Will you look at that," said Williams, pointing to a large billboard bearing his image outside his 30 Rockefeller Center office window. "'The Nation's News Leader, Brian Williams.'"