Tall tale: NBC’s Brian Williams retracts fake Iraq War tale after soldiers protest
Williams addressed his “bungled” story on his show Wednesday night. He also recanted the story in an interview with the military newspaper Stars and Stripes, also published Wednesday.
“I made a mistake in recalling the events of 12 years ago,” Williams said. “I want to apologize. I said I was traveling in an aircraft that was hit by RPG fire. I was instead in a following aircraft.”
The controversy arose after NBC News broadcast a public tribute to Command Sgt. Maj. Tim Terpak, an Iraq veteran who Williams said had been in charge of the journalists’ safety at the time of the incident. The tribute was shot at a New York Rangers hockey game, which Williams attended with Terpak. At the game, Williams recounted his helicopter story.
“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 broadcast. “Our traveling NBC News team was rescued, surrounded and kept alive by an armor mechanized platoon from the US Army 3rd Infantry.”
The trouble was that Williams’ account wasn’t true.
Crew members who had been on the aircraft that was hit told Stars and Stripes that Williams was“nowhere near” the helicopter “or two other Chinooks flying in the formation that took fire.” Instead, they said the anchor “arrived in the area about an hour later on another helicopter.”
Sgt. 1st Class Joseph Miller was a flight engineer on the aircraft that carried journalists.
“No, we never came under direct enemy fire to the aircraft,” Miller told Stars and Stripes. The claim by Williams rankled Miller, as well as other soldiers aboard the Chinooks that did come under attack in 2003.
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“It was something personal for us that was kind of life-changing for me. I know how lucky I was to survive it,” Lance Reynolds, the flight engineer, told Stars and Stripes. “It felt like a personal experience that someone else wanted to participate in and didn’t deserve to participate in.”
Reynolds said Williams and the NBC cameramen arrived in a helicopter 30 to 60 minutes after his damaged Chinook made a rolling landing at an Iraqi airfield and skidded off the runway into the desert. He said he brushed them off because his crew was trying to assess damage to the aircraft and he was worried his wife might see the news report. He said he wanted to tell her everything was all right.
Stars and Stripes reported that Tim Terpark, with whom Williams struck up a friendship, was one of the soldiers of an Army armored unit that provided security around the aircraft.
Miller, Reynolds and Mike O’Keeffe told Stars and Stripes they all recall NBC reporting that Williams was aboard the aircraft that was attacked, despite the claim 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.”
Stars And Stripes also noted that Williams’ story has “been repeated by the network for years.” You can watch him telling it on “The Late Show With David Letterman” in 2013 here.
In his broadcast Wednesday, Williams, who has won a Polk and a Peabody for his news reporting, admitted his mistake.
“I said I was traveling in an aircraft that was hit by RPG fire,” he said.“I was instead in a following aircraft. We all landed after the ground fire incident and spent two harrowing nights in a sandstorm in the Iraqi desert.”