In an explosive revelation that may mean the end of his career, NBC Nightly News anchor Brian Williams admitted Wednesday to Stars and Stripes that the story he has been peddling about surviving a March 24, 2003 helicopter hit in Iraq that grounded the helicopters was a lie. Not only has NBC told the story over the years, Williams had the gall to repeat the story last Friday in NBC’s coverage of a New York Rangers hockey game, a game that featured a tribute to a soldier that had provided ground security for the very helicopters Williams had claimed he was with.
Williams finally confessed only after crew members on the 159th Aviation Regiment’s Chinook, part of the formation Williams had claimed he was with, told Stars and Stripes that Williams wasn’t with the formation at all. The Chinook took small arms fire, along with two other Chinooks. The crew members said Williams arrived roughly an hour after the Chinook was grounded.
Williams’ version of the story last Friday was: “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. Our traveling NBC News team was rescued, surrounded and kept alive by an armor mechanized platoon from the U.S. Army 3rd Infantry.”
Williams apologized to the Nightly News audience on Wednesday, lamely allowing, “I would not have chosen to make this mistake. I don’t know what screwed up in my mind that caused me to conflate one aircraft with another.” He claimed his story at the game was a “bungled attempt” to thank soldiers who guarded him in 2003, adding, “I made a mistake in recalling the events of 12 years ago. I want to apologize.”
Williams initially told the story accurately in 2003, but by 2013, when he appeared on the David Letterman Show, it had morphed into the harrowing tale of a heroic anchor. Williams’ 2013 version prompted a message on NBC News’ Facebook page from one disgruntled soldier, who wrote, “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. 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.”
Williams’ helicopter took no fire, only landing because of a sandstorm that was coming, said Sgt. 1st Class Joseph Miller, the flight engineer on Williams’ helicopter.
Miller and other soldiers with the 159th Aviation Regiment Chinooks have been infuriated by Williams’ lie; Lance Reynolds, the flight engineer of the Chinook that went down, said of Williams’ lie, “It was something personal for us that was kind of life-changing for me. I know how lucky I was to survive it. It felt like a personal experience that someone else wanted to participate in and didn’t deserve to participate in.”
Reynolds pointed out that when Williams’ helicopter arrived, Williams took pictures of the damaged Chinook but Reynolds refused to be interviewed because he thought his wife would worry before he could tell her he was all right. Miller, Reynolds and Mike O’Keeffe, a door gunner on the damaged Chinook, remembered NBC peddling Williams’ story; NBC News trumpeted Williams’ supposed heroism on March 26, 2003, with the headline, “Target Iraq: Helicopter NBC’s Brian Williams Was Riding In Comes Under Fire.”
Williams claimed on Wednesday that he originally told the story accurately, but later changed his tale. O’Keeffe said he has been irritated since he first saw the story when he returned to Kuwait, saying, “Over the years it faded, and then to see it last week it was — I can’t believe he is still telling this false narrative.”