Viewers didn’t know it at the time, and most still don’t.
But NBC Nightly News anchor Brian Williams — whose on-the-scene coverage of Hurricane Katrina helped earn NBC a Peabody Award — fell “terribly ill” in the days following the storm.
On Tuesday, Aug. 30, “we did a broadcast from the I-10 overpass,” Williams recalls. “I thought I could stand up, and I got very weak. They started pumping me with fluids and made me sit down on an equipment box for the broadcast.”
In an interview with TVNewser last week, Williams was clearly uncomfortable discussing the illness.
“The only problem I have with it being public… is that I am the last person people should be thinking about,” he says. “I was surrounded by such depravity, watching people try to survive with such great quiet dignity, that I have a real problem with any attention [directed toward me].”
Williams never revealed his illness to viewers. “It was a very closely held thing,” he says. “My only motive was, I didn’t want anybody talking about it.”
His illness never made news. (TV Week came closest on Sept. 5, mentioning that two NBC employees had fallen ill.) But author Douglas Brinkley caught wind of Williams’ condition and described it in his book, The Great Deluge.
Williams “fell terribly ill from dysentery on Tuesday,” Brinkley wrote. “He possibly contracted the disease by ingesting water containing bacteria, while doing a Today show appearance. He was standing next to flood water, sipping distilled Kentwood Water, when he noticed a trickle of brown on the side of the plastic bottle. A few drops of the sewage water had accidentally gotten into his mouth.”
When asked about his sickness, Williams seemed eager to change the subject. His reasoning was clear: “People were dying around me. The last person in my thoughts was myself.”