Television talk-show host Montel Williams joined the list of celebrities who behave poorly yesterday when he verbally attacked a high school student working as a student-intern reporter, telling her “I can look you up, find where you live and blow you up.”
Williams, who was in Savannah, Ga., promoting Partnership for Prescription Assistance’s “Help is Here Express,” an organization which claims to have helped 4.5 million people get prescriptions for free or nearly free. The talk-show host is a spokesman for the group.
During an interview at a rally held at the Westin Savannah Harbor, high school intern Courtney Scott, working as a reporter for the Savannah Morning News, asked Williams: “Do you think pharmaceutical companies would be discouraged from research and development if their profits were restricted?”
Williams became angry, Scott said.
“I’m trying to figure out exactly why you are here and what the interview is about,” he replied.
Williams, who suffers from multiple sclerosis, asked Scott if she suffered from any disease, and she answered she did not.
“I’m here as a patient advocate talking about the fact that medications available today are saving people’s lives, that’s what saving mine and after that, this interview is done,” Williams said before snapping his fingers, saying thanks and terminating the interview.
Following the incident, Scott and two colleagues from the Morning News went into the Westin hotel to do a story on gingerbread houses exhibited in the lobby. At the same time, Williams and his bodyguard were in the lobby.
“As we were preparing to film, Montel walked up with his bodyguard and got in Courtney Scott’s face pointing his finger telling her, ‘Don’t look at me like that. Do you know who I am? I’m a big star, and I can look you up, find where you live and blow you up,'” Web-content producer Joseph Cosey said. “At this time he was pointing randomly at all of us.”
Scott and intern Phillip Moore confirmed Cosey’s account.
“He was really mad. He was angry at me,” Scott said. “I wasn’t expecting him to come at me and go off, I was expecting him to say, ‘No hard feelings from before.’ I’m not sure if he meant ‘blow me up’ and ruin my career or really blow us up, but it was threatening.”
Scott received the backing of Morning News Executive Editor Susan Catron: “That’s an absolutely fair question to someone who represents the pharmaceutical industry.”
Ken Johnson, senior vice president for the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America, said Scott’s question would have been better directed to himself as a representative of the drug industry. Williams is paid to raise awareness of the drug program, he said.
Johnson said Williams thought the second meeting with Scott and her crew was meant to provoke a confrontation because of his earlier dismissal of her question.
“But that’s not an excuse,” Johnson said. “It’s a regrettable incident. He made a mistake and he’s going to issue an apology.
“Most people have no idea of the pain he suffers because of MS,” Johnson said. “But even on bad days bad behavior is not acceptable.”
Late in the day, Williams issued a statement through a staff member of his television program.
“I apologize for the misunderstanding,” the statement read. “I mistakenly thought the reporter and photographer in question were at the hotel to confront me about some earlier comments. I was wrong and I apologize for my overreaction.”
Scott said she’s not prepared to accept Williams’ apology … yet.
“I won’t accept the apology unless he does it on his show in front of everyone,” she said, “because he embarrassed me in front of a crowd.”
Scott may get her wish.
Late today, Williams released a statement offering an apology and an invitation to his television program.
“I am really saddened by the incident that took place yesterday after such a glorious visit to Savannah to help patients in need. A series of unrelated personal events, including the highs and lows of my daily battle with MS, caused me to overreact to this situation.
However, I am not using that as an excuse for my behavior and I accept full accountability for my actions. Regrettably, I reacted childishly to the situation and for that I truly apologize to all concerned. I would like to invite Courtney and her family to appear on my show for a public apology.”