Media people

Can Brian Williams survive his fake war story? Should he?

brian-williams-recants.jpgNBC Nightly News anchor Brian Williams's apology clangs almost as badly as his false claim that he was riding in an Army helicopter when it was shot down in Iraq in 2003. "I would not have chosen to make this mistake," Williams told Stars and Stripes, which first reported that soldiers who were on the chopper that took fire and made an emergency landing said Williams didn't arrive until an hour later. "I don’t know what screwed up in my mind that caused me to conflate one aircraft with another.”

Williams' apology tried to limit the damage to the one latest re-telling, which came on Friday's news when he did his folksy personal shtick during a story about a veteran, who Williams accompanied to a New York Rangers game. The anchor schmaltzed: "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 read a statement on the news saying that account was wrong, and went longer on Facebook, but suggesting it was a one-time brain burp. In reality, accounts keep emerging of Williams describing his "terrible moment," with varying facts, through the years.

In 2013, Williams told David Letterman about his "holy crap" moment about being on a helicopter was forced down. That same year, he told the story to Alec Baldwin on WNYC in New York, saying he thought briefly he was going to die.

Early on, Williams apparently told the story accurately. CNN compiled a timeline that says Williams in March 2003 reported "On the ground, we learn the Chinook ahead of us was almost blown out of the sky." A September 2003 book about the Iraq invasion by NBC mentions the helicopter incident without claiming its anchor was involved at all. In 2005, Williams told Tim Russert of CNBC that "the helicopter in front of us was hit." Williams repeated in that way in 2007. By the end of that year, Williams is starting to say his helicopter was in a group that took fire and was forced down. Then on Letterman in 2013, he fully crosses over to embracing the fictional account.

Williams' apology sent to Stars and Stripes:

To Joseph, Lance, Jonathan, Pate, Michael and all those who have posted: You are absolutely right and I was wrong.

In fact, I spent much of the weekend thinking I'd gone crazy. I feel terrible about making this mistake, especially since I found my OWN WRITING about the incident from back in '08, and I was indeed on the Chinook behind the bird that took the RPG in the tail housing just above the ramp.

Because I have 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.

I certainly remember the armored mech platoon, meeting Capt. Eric Nye and of course Tim Terpak. Shortly after they arrived, so did the Orange Crush sandstorm, making virtually all outdoor functions impossible. I honestly don't remember which of the three choppers Gen. Downing and I slept in, but we spent two nights on the stowable web bench seats in one of the three birds.

Later in the invasion when Gen. Downing and I reached Baghdad, I remember searching the parade grounds for Tim's Bradley to no avail. My attempt to pay tribute to CSM Terpak was to honor his 23+ years in service to our nation, and it had been 12 years since I saw him.

The ultimate irony is: In writing up the synopsis of the 2 nights and 3 days I spent with him in the desert, I managed to switch aircraft. Nobody's trying to steal anyone's valor. Quite the contrary: I was and remain a civilian journalist covering the stories of those who volunteered for duty. This was simply an attempt to thank Tim, our military and Veterans everywhere — those who have served while I did not."

On the air:

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