NBC Nightly News host Brian Williams apologized and recanted his story about being in a U.S. military helicopter as it was forced to land under fire in Iraq 12 years ago, Stars & Stripes reported.
“You are absolutely right and I was wrong,” Williams wrote on his Facebook page. “In fact, I spent much of the weekend thinking I’d gone crazy.”
Politico reported that Williams has said for years that he was aboard a Chinook helicopter with members of the 159th Aviation Regiment when it was hit by a rocket-propelled grenade (RPG) during a March 2003 mission.
He revisited the story last Friday while reporting on a tribute he prepared for Command Sgt. Major Tim Terpack during a New York Rangers game.
“Our traveling NBC News team was rescued, surrounded and kept alive by an armor mechanized platoon from the U.S. Army 3rd Infantry,” Williams said.
In fact, the helicopter Williams and his camera crew rode that day did not encounter any fire. The discrepancy was brought to light on his Facebook page by Lance Reynolds, who served as a flight engineer on the Chinook that actually was hit by the RPG and forced to land at a U.S. base west of Baghdad.
“Sorry dude, I don’t remember you being on my aircraft,” Reynolds wrote to Williams. “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. The whole time we were still stuck in Iraq trying to repair the aircraft and pulling our own Security.”
“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,” Williams stated in his response.
His desire to honor Terpak’s service, Williams added, made him “switch aircraft.”
“Nobody’s trying to steal anyone’s valor,” he wrote. “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.”
According to Stars & Stripes, NBC has reported the false story since March 2003, which annoyed several service members on the mission, including Mike O’Keeffe, who was a door gunner on the helicopter that was damaged.
“Over the years it faded,” O’Keefe said. “Then to see it last week it was, I can’t believe he is still telling this false narrative.”
Watch Williams’ mistaken report, as aired last Friday, below.
Update: Williams made an on-air correction on Wednesday, calling the false story “a bungled attempt” to pay tribute to military members. His statement can be seen below.