February 13, 2015
George E. Curry, NNPA Columnist
“NBC Nightly News” anchor Brian Williams has finally admitted that he had incorrectly asserted that a helicopter he traveled aboard in 2002 while reporting on the Iraq War in 2003 was hit by a rocket-propelled grenade, forcing an emergency landing.
“This was a bungled attempt by me to thank one special veteran and by extension our brave military men and women veterans everywhere…” he said on air.
Williams’ admission came on the heels of a story published in the military publication Stars & Stripes that challenged his retelling of events.
“NBC News anchor Brian Williams has told a war story over the years since the 2003 invasion of Iraq. It grew to where he was claiming to be on a Chinook helicopter that was forced down after taking rocket-propelled grenade and small-arms fire,” the newspaper reported. “In his on-air apology Wednesday, he backed off that, but said that he ‘was instead in a following aircraft.’ Soldiers who were in two Chinook companies say he was not in, nor ever near, a helicopter that was being fired upon.”
Williams, who makes $13 million a year, has drastically altered his story over the years, according to a timeline published by CNN.
Lt. Col. Jerry Pearman, the mission commander when one of the three Chinooks took fire, told Stars & Stripes, “I can say with 100 percent certainty that no NBC reporters were on any of the aircrafts.”
Following his public admission, Williams said that he would forgo his anchoring duties at the top-rated network news program “for the next several days.” Politico.com, describing what it called “a sign of deepening trouble,” reported on Sunday that Williams cancelled an appearance on “Late Night with David Letterman” that had been scheduled for Thursday.
It was on an earlier Letterman show that Williams also gave his now-discredited account.
The New York Times reported, “In 2013, Mr. Williams told David Letterman that he had actually been on the helicopter that got shot down, adding that a crew member had been injured and received a medal. ‘We figured out how to land safely,’ he said, ‘we landed very quickly and hard. We were stuck, four birds in the desert and we were north out ahead of the other Americans.’”
Of course, none of that was true.
Fairness & Accuracy in Reporting (FAIR), the media watchdog group, said, “Now that he’s cleared that up, there are some other tall tales that Williams might want to take back. Take his recounting of the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans (Dateline NBC, 8/22/10; Extra!, 10/10):
“You know, I’ve been around a lot of guns and a lot of dead bodies, and a lot of people shooting at people to make dead bodies. But you put them all together and you put it in the United States of America, and boy, it gets your attention….
“It was clear already there weren’t going to be enough cops…. Everywhere we went, every satellite shot, every camera shot, we were at the height of the violence and the looting and the—all the reports of gunplay downtown. Well, who’s bathed in the only lights in town? It was us….
“We had to ask Federal Protection Service guys with automatic weapons to just form a ring and watch our backs while we were doing Dateline NBC one night…. State troopers had to cover us by aiming at the men in the street just to tell them, ‘Don’t think of doing a smash and grab and killing this guy for the car.’” FAIR stated, “As long as he’s in a confessional mood, Williams might as well admit that he didn’t see ‘a lot of people shooting at people to make dead bodies,’ nor would people have killed him for his car if he hadn’t been surrounded by feds – none of which appeared in his original reporting.”
The New Orleans Times-Picayune reported in a Pulitzer Prize-winning story, “Four weeks after the storm, few of the widely reported atrocities have been backed with evidence. The piles of bodies never materialized, and soldiers, police officers and rescue personnel on the front lines say that although anarchy reigned at times and people suffered unimaginable indignities, most of the worst crimes reported at the time never happened.”
To Williams’ credit he did air a weeklong series called “After the Storm: The Long Road Back” in which the network tackled racial discrimination, among other issues. He said Katrina was different from most disasters and that NBC would “keep covering it.”
However, that was not the case.
FAIR observed, “… Katrina’s impoverished victims faded rapidly away from NBC’s coverage thereafter. By the six-month anniversary in February, NBC had joined its rivals in limiting coverage to a brief look at the struggles of putting on Mardi Gras in a depopulated city, then moving on before anyone could accuse them of peering too deeply into matters of race or class.”
Perhaps it was another ”bungled attempt” by Brian Williams to portray himself as a hero.
George E. Curry, former editor-in-chief of Emerge magazine, is editor-in-chief of the National Newspaper Publishers Association News Service (NNPA.) He is a keynote speaker, moderator, and media coach. He can be reached through his website, www.georgecurry.com. You can also follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/currygeorge and George E. Curry Fan Page on Facebook.