In a story first reported in Stars and Stripes, Travis Tritten writes about a story told by NBC Nightly News anchor Brian Williams about a rocket propelled grenade (RPG) incident he survived during transport by a Chinook helicopter as the Iraq invasion unfolded in 2003 – a story repeated by the network many times over the past 12 years.
Williams now admits it never happened. According to Tritten:
“Williams repeated the claim Friday during NBC’s coverage of a public tribute at a New York Rangers hockey game for a retired soldier that had provided ground security for the grounded helicopters, a game to which Williams accompanied him.
“The admission came after crewmembers on the 159th Aviation Regiment’s Chinook that was hit by two rockets and small arms fire told Stars and Stripes that the NBC anchor was nowhere near that aircraft or two other Chinooks flying in the formation that took fire.”
Williams invited deeper review of his account after repeating his story in the company of retired Sgt. 1st Class Joseph Miller, who served as the flight engineer on the aircraft that carried Williams during the alleged incident. Sgt. Miller disputed Williams’s account following a standing ovation by those in attendance.
In his 60-second on air apology, Williams said:
“On this broadcast last week in an effort to honor and thank a veteran who had protected me and so many others after a ground fire incident in the desert during the Iraq invasion I made a mistake in recalling the events of 12 years ago, it did not take long to hear from some brave men and women and the aircrews who were also in that desert. 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. We all landed after the ground fire incident and spent two harrowing nights in a sandstorm in the Iraq desert. This was a bungled attempt by me to thank one special veteran and by extension our brave military men and women veterans everywhere, those who have served while I did not. I hope they know they have my greatest respect and also now my apology.”
Even then, crew members on the 159th Aviation Regiment’s Chinook that took fire say Williams needs to apologize for his apology.
According to those present, Williams misled his viewers into thinking he was “in a following aircraft” formation to the Chinook damaged by enemy RPG and small arms fire. He was in fact an hour behind the damaged Chinook and made an emergency landing during a dust storm without further incident.
Some believe this is becoming a pattern for NBC news.
In 1993, Dateline NBC co-anchors Jane Pauley and Stone Phillips admitted that the program had staged the fiery test crash of a pickup truck to sensationalize alleged defects in the General Motors vehicle to settle a defamation suit filed by the automaker.
In a statement, they apologized to their viewers and to General Motors adding that “We have… concluded that unscientific demonstrations should have no place in hard news stories at NBC”.
NBC news struck again in the case of George Zimmerman its investigation into the shooting death of Florida resident Trayvon Martin, a 17-year-old African American. In a lawsuit Zimmerman filed against NBC Universal, Zimmerman accused the network of editing out intervening dialog on an audio tape of his 911 police call to make him sound racist.
NBC’s audio edits of the 911 call made it appear that Zimmerman brought up race in describing Martin to police when in fact the 911 operator asked him pointedly about the race of the subject Zimmerman was calling about in his capacity as a neighborhood watch volunteer.
NBC issued a half-hearted retraction in response.