Brian Williams' Credibility Questioned After Fake Iraq Story
NBC News anchor Brian Williams found himself the story Thursday, his credibility seriously threatened because he falsely claimed he had been in a helicopter hit by a grenade during the Iraq war.
NBC News officials would not say whether their top on-air personality would face disciplinary action. Williams, the "Nightly News" anchor for just over a decade, had become an online punching bag overnight.
Tweets with the hashtag #BrianWilliamsMemories joked that he blew up the Death Star, saved someone from a polar bear and flew with Wonder Woman in her invisible helicopter. Photoshopped pictures showed him reporting from the moon and riding shotgun with O.J. Simpson in his Ford Bronco.
"How could you expect anyone who served in the military to ever see this guy onscreen again and not feel contempt?" wrote critic David Zurawik, of the Baltimore Sun. "How could you expect anyone to believe he or the broadcast he leads has any credibility?"
Williams apologized Wednesday for telling the story a week earlier during a "Nightly News" tribute to a veteran he had befriended during a 2003 reporting trip to Iraq. Before expressing his regrets on the air, Williams did so online and in an interview with the newspaper Stars & Stripes.
He speculated online that constant viewing of video showing him inspecting the damaged helicopter "and the fog of memory over 12 years, made me conflate the two, and I apologize."
His story had morphed through the years.
Shortly after the incident, Williams had described on NBC how he was traveling in a group of helicopters forced down in the Iraq desert. On the ground, he learned the Chinook in front of him "had almost been blown out of the sky"; he showed a photo of it with a gash from a rocket-propelled grenade.
The NBC crew and military officials accompanying them spent three days in the desert, kept aground by a sandstorm.
But in a 2008 blog post, Williams said his helicopter had come under fire from what appeared to be Iraqi farmers with RPGs. He said a helicopter in front of his had been hit.
Then, in a 2013 appearance on David Letterman's "Late Show," Williams said that two of the four helicopters he was traveling with had been hit by ground fire "including the one I was in."
"No kidding?" Letterman interjected.
Williams described making a quick, hard landing in the middle of the desert.
"I have to treat you now with renewed respect," Letterman said. "That's a tremendous story."
Williams' story was first questioned in posts to the "Nightly News" Facebook page. It's a touchy topic: Members of the military who are wounded or who come under enemy fire consider themselves members of a special kind of brotherhood and don't like people who try to intrude, said retired U.S. Army Col. Pete Mansoor, a professor of military history at Ohio State University.