A stunning admission from Brian Williams, the anchor of top-rated NBC Nightly News: That story he’s been telling about covering the Iraq war and being in a helicopter that came under enemy fire, well, it never happened.
We’ll say it again: That famous Brian Williams Iraq war story he’s retold a million times never actually happened.
Brian Williams now says he was, in fact, not on board a helicopter hit by enemy fire during the invasion of Iraq in 2003 even though he’s been telling that same story for years, including in 2013 in an appearance with David Letterman on his show.
“We were in some helicopters. What we didn’t know was, we were north of the invasion. We were the northernmost Americans in Iraq,” he told the late night host. “We were going to drop some bridge portions across the Euphrates so the Third Infantry could cross on them. Two of the four helicopters were hit, by ground fire, including the one I was in, RPG and AK-47.”
Brian Williams repeated the Iraq war story as recently as last Friday, during NBC coverage of a ceremony honoring a retired soldier.
The admission from Brian Williams came after the very crew members that were hit by enemy gunfire told Stars and Stripes that Brian Williams was not only not with them, but nowhere near them.
That hero crew reported to Stars and Stripes that Williams arrived on a different chopper–an hour later.
On Nightly last night, an embarrassed Brian Williams apologized for the mistake, blaming it on a memory lapse that he cannot fully explain.
“I made a mistake in recalling the events of 12 years ago… I want to apologize,” said Williams. “I said I was traveling in an aircraft that was hit by RPG fire. I was, instead, in a follow up craft, we all landed after the ground fire incident and we spent two nights in a sand storm in the Iraq desert.
Though not a veteran himself, Williams says he has the highest regard for those who are.
“I hope they know they have my greatest respect, and now my apology.”
Veterans, others react to Brian Williams Iraq war story
Veterans and media critics are not so easy to forgive and forget the sloppy story-telling.
Brian Williams, Iraq war story-teller, will not live this down quickly or easily.
“Come on, if your helicopter is shot down, that’s a life-changing event. It happened or it didn’t happen and it’s very hard for me to understand how he could make that mistake,” Howard Kurtz, host of Fox News Channel’s Media Buzz program, told Megyn Kelly on The Kelly File. “It’s a major blow to his credibility and to that of his network.”
Some veterans say the apology was underwhelming and that Brian Williams apologized only because he got caught.
“Brian knew what he was saying. He didn’t forget what chopper he was on. It took the soldiers that were there to make him finally admit he lied about the incident,” Anthony Anderson, Staff Sergeant in the U.S. Army and who operates the Guardian of Valor website, told the website FOX411. “Although it doesn’t meet the definition [of] ‘Stolen Valor,’ it’s still along the same lines, as he claimed to be in an incident involving combat that he wasn’t in. I believe he only apologized because the soldiers protested. Had they not spoken up, would he have ever apologized for it?”
Kris “Tanto” Paronto, also told Fox411 that he was outraged. He’s a former Army Ranger from 2nd Battalion 75th Ranger Regiment.
“This is one of, if not the most despicable acts of lying to those who have served and the United States citizens. He is stealing valor from those that have actually seen combat, been shot at with RPG’s and small arms fire,” Paronto, a survivor in the 2012 Benghazi Consulate attack, said. “I can tell you from firsthand experience that you do not misremember being shot at. This lie and continual lying to cover up the first lie says a lot about Mr. Williams’ character, or lack thereof. This is a serious offense.”
On social media, the reactions are unforgiving:
“How on earth is this guy not fired?” writes Curt Schilling, a father of 4.
http://t.co/Crfsp63uES how on earth is this guy not fired?
— Curt Schilling (@gehrig38) February 4, 2015
Writes another: “Dear Brian Williams: Getting hit by RPG fire is not something you oopsie get confused over or “conflate” because 12 yrs ago. Dude.”
Dear Brian Williams: Getting hit by RPG fire is not something you oopsie get confused over or “conflate” because 12 yrs ago. Dude. — David Pleasant (@dpleasant) February 4, 2015
And now, as notes Glenn Selig, a crisis management expert, it is a full blown PR nightmare for Brian Williams and NBC News.
“He is a news anchor and his integrity and reputation are at the bedrock of everything he has,” says Selig from the national PR firm The Publicity Agency. “This one thing is a big thing because it goes to the heart of credibility and character.
“This is something that should not and cannot be minimized,” says Selig. “It’s almost as if Brian Williams didn’t quite grasp the enormity of the transgression. Can he overcome this? My answer is probably. But he first must do a better job of explaining what happened and reflecting to the public that he fully understands the level of transgression.”
Selig says he hopes that NBC recognizes the severity of the transgression that occurred here and deals with it as a real public relations crisis.
“NBC has a history of minimizes its own PR crises and hoping that things die down on their own,” says Selig. “Brian Williams anchors the top-rated nightly news program. Something like this, if handled inappropriately, can change that quickly.”