It’s the stuff of American news nightmares – having to tell a trusting audience of thousands that the amazing story you told about being aboard a helicopter that was shot down during the Iraq war wasn’t actually true.
Which is exactly what happened to NBC news anchor Brian Williams this week, a man who frequently trotted out his wartime tale over the past 12 years, much to the delight of his admiring public.
During another recital on Friday, he embellished it further by adding that the aircraft had come under enemy fire.
To his embarrassment, his claims were shot down even faster by the two soldiers who were on board the helicopter with him:
“I would not have chosen to make this mistake,” Williams said by way of apology on his Nightly News show on Wednesday.
“I don't know what screwed up in my mind that caused me to conflate one aircraft with another.”
Further still, he issued a grovelling statement to his helicopter comrades (not) in arms.
“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.”