There are a lot of things from my earlier years I don’t really remember orrectly, largely due to a mix of Country Time Lemonade and cheap vodka, but they’re mostly innocous things, like how the cat ended up with a red wine stain on its back, how my furniture ended up in that particular formation, or whether Chicago’s baseball team had, in fact, won the World Series sometime in April of 2009. I think, though, if I’d been shot at in a helicopter while covering a story in Iraq, I’d have remembered it correctly. It seems like a big event that people could corroborate, right, so that even if I wasn’t clear on the details, someone who’d been there would be.
Enter Brian Williams, anchor of NBC’s stellar primetime lineup of news shows for old people who don’t understand the Internet, who has, since 2003, been telling a story about how his helicopter came under RPG fire in Iraq and was forced to land. Turns out, while there were a few helicopters in the area that had been forced to land after coming under enemy fire, Williams’s helicopter landed at least an hour later under near-perfect conditions. Which he, he told viewers of NBC News in a strange non-apology, only found out about on Friday.
NBC Nightly News anchor Brian Williams admitted Wednesday he was not aboard a helicopter hit and forced down by RPG fire during the invasion of Iraq in 2003, a false claim that has been repeated by the network for years.
Williams repeated the claim Friday during NBC’s coverage of a public tribute at a New York Rangers hockey game for a retired soldier that had provided ground security for the grounded helicopters, a game to which Williams accompanied him. In an interview with Stars and Stripes, he said he had misremembered the events and was sorry.
The admission came after crew members on the 159th Aviation Regiment’s Chinook that was hit by two rockets and small arms fire told Stars and Strips that the NBC anchor was nowhere near that aircraft or two other Chinooks flying in the formation that took fire. Williams arrived in the area about an hour later on another helicopter after the other three had made an emergency landing, the crew members said.
“I would not have chosen to make this mistake,” Williams said. “I don’t know what screwed up in my mind that caused me to conflate one aircraft with another.”
I don’t know what caused him to conlate the aircrafts, either, considering he was on one of them and it was not on the one that took fire. In fact, it landed over an hour later, meaning that Brian Williams didn’t witness any helicopters actually taking rounds from an RPG. And while the passage of years could alter a memory, especially if Williams was on board an aircraft that was receiving alerts about RPG fire over a loudspeaker – something that would terrify a civilian unusued to daily occurrences of a war zone – it seems Williams (or someone Williams told about the incident) actually filed a report about the affair when it happened.
Miller, Reynolds and Mike O’Keeffe, who was a door gunner on the damaged Chinook, said they all recall NBC reporting that Williams was aboard the aircraft that was attacked, despite it being false. The NBC online archive shows the network broadcast a news story on March 26, 2003, with the headline, “Target Iraq: Helicopter NBC’s Brian Williams Was Riding In Comes Under Fire.”
Williams disputed Wednesday claims the initial reports were inaccurate, saying he originally reported he was in another helicopter but later confused the events. In a 2008 NBC blog post with his byline, he wrote that the “Chinook helicopter flying in front of ours (from the 101st Airborne) took an RPG to the rear rotor.”
The thing that strikes me is that Williams was trying to tell a story about the US Army’s 3rd Infantry “saving” his crew and acting bravely to ensure they were out of harm’s way, and yet, the crew themselves were the ones to say the story was false. That’s really fantastic: even though we know that, every day, our soldiers protect not only our freedom, but the lives of civilians operating in war zones, they want to make sure that the right stories about their remarkable valor get told. Not the wrong ones. In this case, it’s clear that Williams just wanted to involve himself in a story that was really supposed to be about American soldiers. Even in his apology, he refused to let go of the idea that he’d been somehow involved, noting that he’d “witnessed” a shooting that happend well out of his reach.
For Williams’ part, I’m sure this isn’t the first time he’s embellished a tale of his war reporting in order to score free drinks at NYC cocktail parties. Ironically, though, Williams himself once attacked his blogging competition for being prone to embellishment and hyperbole, while he himself, as a Very Serious Journalist, was in posession of a very strong “BS Meter” that allowed him to sort through the irrelevant and obviously fabricated details of stories to get to the heart and meat of the Truth, Justice and the American Way. I suppose that when you’re full of it, you can smell it on others?
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