Brian Williams of “NBC Nightly News” apologized on his Wednesday broadcast for mistakenly saying he was aboard a helicopter that was hit by enemy fire while covering the 2003 U.S. invasion of Iraq.
The claim was made Friday in a “NBC Nightly News” story about Williams accompanying a retired soldier to a New York Rangers hockey game at Madison Square Garden.
The veteran, Tim Terpack, had provided ground security for the helicopters Williams claimed to have been aboard.
Williams said in the piece that “a helicopter we were traveling in was forced down after being hit by an RPG.” The story was also told over the Madison Square Garden public address system when Williams and Terpack were introduced to the crowd.
“On this broadcast last week, in an effort to honor and thank a veteran who protected me and so many others after a ground fire incident in the desert during the Iraq War invasion, I made a mistake in recalling the events of 12 years ago,” he said in a statement delivered in the second half of his broadcast. “It did not take long to hear from some brave men and women in the air crews 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 groundfire incident and spent two harrowing nights in a sand storm 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.”
The on-air mea culpa came after Stars and Stripes reported it heard from crew members on the 159th Aviation Regiment’s Chinook that was hit by rockets and small arms fire in the incident that Williams described.
They told the publication that the anchor and his crew were not on the aircraft. Stars and Stripes reported that “two other Chinooks flying in the formation took fire” and Williams arrived an hour later on another helicopter.
Crew members also disputed Williams’ account on social media before Williams issued his first apology through Stars and Stripes.
Williams had perpetuated his inaccurate account of the incident in at least one other TV appearance. He told David Letterman in a 2013 guest spot on “The Late Show,” in great detail, that the helicopter he was in had been hit.
NBC News pointed out that Williams gave an accurate account of the incident on “Dateline NBC” in 2003. “On the ground, we learned the Chinook ahead of us was almost shot out of the sky,” he said in the report.