NBC's Williams Smugly Swats at Palin's Botched History But Ignored Obama's 'Selma' Flub

NBC Nightly News anchor Brian Williams seemed to take smug delight Friday night in pointing out how Sarah Palin's off-the-cuff recounting of Paul Revere's ride was at odds with the correct history, smirking that Palin's version "already has tongues wagging."

Williams interest was unique - neither the CBS Evening News, anchored by Harry Smith, nor ABC's World News, with ex-Democratic spin doctor George Stephanopoulos filling in for Diane Sawyer, thought Palin's error was worth even mentioning. And Williams himself - even though he generally works with a pre-written script, in contrast to Palin's impromptu remarks in Boston - has had his own problems with historical accuracy over the years (details below the fold).

Williams attention to Palin's mistake is also in contrast to how his newscast never reported the bizarre gaffe made by then-candidate Barack Obama in 2007, when on March 4 of that year Obama, in a speech saluting the 1965 civil rights march in Selma, Alabama, claimed his parents "got together" because of "what happened in Selma."

Obama at the time asserted: "There was something stirring across the country because of what happened in Selma, Alabama, because some folks are willing to march across a bridge. So they got together and Barack Obama, Jr. was born." But Obama's parents married in February, 1961 - four years before the famous march - with their son born the following August. Yet Williams' NBC Nightly News never tried to embarrass the Democratic candidate by publicizing his obvious mistake, as the MRC documented in a 2008 special report.

Here's the transcript of the short item from the June 3, 2011 Nightly News (video here):

BRIAN WILLIAMS: And this piece of video from a woman prominent in the news this week already has tongues wagging. It's from her tour of historic sites - listen to the following and you shall hear, Sarah Palin's version of the midnight ride of Paul Revere:

SARAH PALIN: He who warned the British that they weren't be taking away our arms, by ringing those bells and making sure as he's riding his horse through town to send those warning shots and bells that we were going to be secure and we were going to be free.

WILLIAMS: As she said, that already has - as we said, rather - that already has people talking. Sarah Palin touring the Freedom Trail in Boston. Of course, the real life version involves lanterns.

On Fox News Sunday, host Chris Wallace asked Palin about the matter: "You realize that you messed up about Paul Revere, don't you?" Palin suggested she was the victim of a "shout-out, gotcha-type of question" but said she was right on the facts:

SARAH PALIN: You know what, I didn't mess up about Paul Revere. Here's what Paul Revere did. He warned the Americans that 'the British were coming, the British were coming,' and they were going to try to take our arms so we gotta make sure that we were protecting ourselves and shoring up all of our ammunitions and our fire arms so that they couldn't take it. But remember that the British had already been there, many soldiers, for seven years in that area. And part of Paul Revere's ride - and it wasn't just one ride - he was a courier, he was a messenger. Part of his ride was to warn the British that were already there that, hey, 'You are not going to succeed. You're not going to take American arms. You are not going to beat our own well-armed persons, individual, private militia that we have.' He did warn the British. And, in a shout out, gotcha-type of question that was asked of me, I answered candidly, and I know my American history.

As for Williams, here's a short review of how he's recounted American history over the years:

>> March 21, 2003: During live MSNBC coverage of the initial bombing of Baghdad, Williams likened the precision missile attacks on Baghdad targets with the indiscriminate carpet-bombing of Dresden and Japanese cities during World War II. At about 1:12pm EST, over live video of explosions, Williams asserted: "That vista on the lower-left looks like Dresden, it looks like some of the firebombing of Japanese cities during World War II. There's another one. Still going on. You hear them overhead. Either jet aircraft or cruise missiles but yet another explosion."

Williams' false analogy drew a swift rebuke about an hour later at a briefing from then-Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld: "Just before coming down, after the air campaign began in earnest about on 1pm, I saw some of the images on television and I heard various commentators expansively comparing what's taking place in Iraq today to some of the more famous bombing campaigns of World War II. There is no comparison. The weapons that are being used today have a degree of precision that no one ever dreamt of in a prior conflict - they didn't exist....The targeting capabilities and the care that goes into targeting to see that the precise targets are struck and that other targets are not struck is as impressive as anything anyone could see." (Details)

>> June 30, 2005: After a story about whether Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was one of the captors of U.S. hostages in 1979 during Ayatollah Khomeini's Islamic revolution, Williams suggested a sickening moral equivalence between the Iranian radicals and America's Founding Fathers. Both, he suggested to correspondent Andrea Mitchell, could be called terrorists: "Andrea, what would it all matter if proven true? Someone brought up today the first several U.S. presidents were certainly revolutionaries and might have been called terrorists at the time by the British Crown, after all." Mitchell replied: "Indeed, Brian." (Details)

>> August 5, 2005: To mark the 60th anniversary of the Enola Gay dropping an atomic bomb on Hiroshima on August 6, 1945, Williams went to the Smithsonian's Air and Space Museum annex near Dulles Airport - where the plane is on display - to talk to the plane's navigator, Dutch Van Kirk. Williams suggested the veteran should feel badly about his actions: "Do you have remorse for what happened? How do you deal with that in your mind?" Van Kirk indignantly replied: "No, I do not have remorse..." (Details)

- Rich Noyes is Research Director at the Media Research Center. Click here to follow him on Twitter.