NBC Nightly News anchor Brian Williams apologized on Wednesday for falsely claiming that he was aboard a U.S. Air Force helicopter that was forced down by enemy rocket fire during the invasion of Iraq in March 2003. The newscaster has discussed the incident a number of times since 2003, most recently on the Friday, Jan. 30, episode of Nightly News.
“The story actually started with a terrible moment a dozen years back during the invasion of Iraq, when the helicopter we were traveling in was forced down after being hit by an RPG,” Williams said on the Jan. 30 newscast. “Our traveling NBC News team was rescued, surrounded and kept alive by an armor mechanized platoon from the U.S. Army 3rd Infantry.”
After landing, Williams says, he struck up a friendship with retired command sergeant major Tim Terpak, who helped provide ground security for the helicopters after the attack. The NBC Nightly News segment that aired Friday showed an impromptu public tribute to Terpak, who was attending a New York Rangers hockey game with Williams.
After NBC shared the clip on Facebook, veterans who were actually aboard the Chinook helicopter brought down by RPG and small arms fire took to the social network to counter Williams’ claims.
“Sorry dude, I don't remember you being on my aircraft. I do remember you walking up about an hour after we had landed to ask me what had happened,” Lance Reynolds, the flight engineer for the helicopter that was struck, said on Facebook. “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.”said he was wrong and “spent much of the weekend thinking I'd gone crazy.”
Williams also claimed his helicopter had been hit by an RPG last year on the Late Show with David Letterman. Members who were on board the aircraft that was struck told Stripes.com that Williams and his camera crew were actually aboard a helicopter in a separate formation about an hour behind the helicopters that came under fire.
“I feel terrible about making this mistake,” Williams said in an apology to Reynolds and others on Facebook. “I was wrong … 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.”
In the apology, Williams referred to a 2008 NBC blog post he wrote, where he described the incident: The “Chinook helicopter flying in front of ours (from the 101st Airborne) took an RPG to the rear rotor.” He claims he later confused the events.
‘Nobody’s Trying To Steal Anyone’s Valor’
Williams wrote in his apology that “Nobody’s trying to steal anyone’s valor,” referring to false claims about military service, known as stolen valor. The Stolen Valor Act of 2013 makes it illegal to receive money or “tangible benefits” by fraudulently claiming to have received certain military decorations.
While Williams’ claims may not have been illegal, his claims about misremembering the event are extraordinarily unlikely, said retired U.S. Navy SEAL Don Shipley.
“It’s putting yourself out there as some kind of hero when you’re not, and it takes away from the guys who went,” he said. Shipley produces a YouTube channel in which he investigates false claims about military service, which he says are on the rise.
“War correspondents are killed all the time,” Shipley said. “It’s a very dangerous job. I have a lot of respect for those guys going over there and telling us what’s going on. I think [Williams’] claims are a ... disservice to the correspondents who have been killed.”