NBC anchor Williams reporting from Iraq
EmptyNEW YORK -- A year after ABC's Bob Woodruff was nearly killed by a roadside bomb in Iraq, NBC anchor Brian Williams has become the first broadcast news anchor to visit the war-torn country.
Williams left New York on Friday and arrived in Baghdad on Sunday for what will be at least several days in the country doing reporting not only for "NBC Nightly News" but also "Today" and other NBC and MSNBC properties. He first appeared in Baghdad for a brief appearance on Sunday's "Meet the Press."
On Monday night's "Nightly News," he reported on his trip with U.S. Army general via Blackhawk helicopter -- and a fighter jet escort because of insurgents' recent success shooting down several choppers -- to the towns of Hit and Ramadi in the battleground Anbar province. Williams -- wearing a helmet and a flak jacket over a blue shirt -- reported that the Army has seen some success in making the towns safe.
But not safe enough for Williams to remain in the open, as a soldier motioned for him to go inside instead of staying outside.
"It is very clear ... that the strategy here has undergone a profound change," Williams wrote in his "Daily Nightly" blog. Williams was unavailable for comment Monday from Iraq.
The decision to send Williams to what has become an incredibly dangerous situation for a journalist was sparked by a conversation Williams had with NBC News president Steve Capus late last year. This is Williams' third trip to Iraq since the war started.
"It was his initial idea," Capus said Monday. "I would say that we had conversations that ran the full spectrum from thinking it was a good idea to "this is not the right time.' " Capus said there were "gut check" conversations in January but in February the planning was set into motion; Williams blogged that plans were delayed so they wouldn't interfere with a Woodruff's documentary on his ordeal.
Safety is foremost in Williams' and Capus' mind.
"For all of the deliberations we had here (at NBC News), Brian had just as many serious deliberations at home with his family," Capus said. He's a family man, and that's why I can safely say he's not a cowboy, he's somebody who takes his job very seriously. He wants to get the Iraq story right. He accurately describes it as the story of his time."
But Capus recognizes that there's plenty of danger, as Woodruff's story and the serious injury of Kimberly Dozier and the deaths of her two-man crew in May. He said NBC and its parent corporation GE has taken many necessary precautions; NBC News correspondent Richard Engel, who has often been to Iraq and is there with Williams now, also had what Capus calls "a very strong voice in these conversations."
Williams said that the decision was his, and he did it with careful consideration. Capus said that Williams also was committed to actually going out and doing reporting, not just staying within the relative safety of the Green Zone in Baghdad.
"You think long and hard before you give a green light to something like that," Capus said. "We believed it could be done safely."
Safety has been a major concern for the networks since the injury Jan. 29, 2006, to Woodruff and his cameraman Doug Vogt as they traveled in a military convoy. It became even more so with the deaths in May of James Brolan and Paul Douglas and the severe injury of Dozier.
What it's not is a play for ratings, a move to call more attention to "NBC Nightly News."
"I wouldn't put him at risk for a ratings play," Capus said. "I would rather spend my money on a damn billboard than putting him at risk. Arguably, the billboard would get you more ratings."