NBC’s Brian Williams recants Iraq attack story
NEW YORK (CNNMoney) — Brian Williams, the anchor of the “NBC Nightly News,” apologized on Wednesday for claiming that he’d been aboard a helicopter that was “forced down after being hit by an RPG.”
The incident happened on March 24, 2003. A Chinook helicopter was forced down by enemy fire — but Williams was not on it.
Stars and Stripes reported on Wednesday that “Williams arrived in the area about an hour later on another helicopter,” one that “took no fire and landed later beside the damaged helicopter due to an impending sandstorm from the Iraqi desert.”
Williams is blaming a foggy memory.
“I would not have chosen to make this mistake,” Williams told Stars and Stripes, the U.S. military’s independent news organization.
“I don’t know what screwed up in my mind that caused me to conflate one aircraft with another,” he added.
The damaging revelation may harm Williams’ credibility.
Williams was embedded with U.S. military forces on risky missions at the start of the Iraq War in 2003. A USA Today report at the time said he was “stranded in the Iraqi desert for three days after a Chinook helicopter ahead of his was attacked by a man who fired a rocket-propelled grenade.”
USA Today said “the grenade just missed, but it forced the group to make an emergency landing.”
The story evolved over time, and last week Williams briefly re-told it on the “NBC Nightly News,” which he has anchored since 2004.
It was part of an on-air tribute to a soldier who provided security for the downed crew.
“The helicopter we were traveling in was forced down after being hit by an RPG,” Williams said. “Our traveling NBC News team was rescued and kept alive by an Armored Mechanized Platoon from the U.S. Army 3rd Infantry.”
After the tribute aired and NBC shared it on Facebook, people started to raise questions about its veracity.
Lance Reynolds, who was quoted in news accounts about the March 24 incident, wrote on Facebook, “Sorry dude, I don’t remember you being on my aircraft.”
Reynolds continued, “I do remember you walking up about an hour after we had landed to ask me what had happened. Then I remember you guys taking back off in a different flight of Chinooks from another unit and heading to Kuwait to report your ‘war story’ to the Nightly News. The whole time we were still stuck in Iraq trying to repair the aircraft and pulling our own Security.”
Another commenter, Joseph Miller, wrote, “Thank you Lance! I’ve been calling him out on this for a long time with no response. He was actually on my aircraft and we came in behind you about 30-45 minutes later.”
Some of the comments insulted Williams and called him a liar. He responded in a Facebook post on Wednesday afternoon.
“You are absolutely right and I was wrong,” he wrote to Reynolds, Miller and several others.
“In fact, I spent much of the weekend thinking I’d gone crazy,” he wrote. “I feel terrible about making this mistake.”
William said he has “no desire to fictionalize my experience (we all saw it happened the first time) and no need to dramatize events as they actually happened, I think the constant viewing of the video showing us inspecting the impact area — and the fog of memory over 12 years — made me conflate the two, and I apologize.”