The Slatest

Account Brian Williams Gave of Iraq Incident Two Days After It Happened Is Disputed by Soldiers

Brian Williams apologized on NBC Nightly News on Wednesday for claiming that he’d been in a helicopter in Iraq that was hit by an RPG. But as I noted after his appearance, his apology continued to imply that he was in a helicopter in the same group as the craft that was actually hit—which is, according to soldiers who were there, not true. (They say his helicopter was somewhere between 30 minutes and an hour behind the three that were fired upon.)  

Tom Kludt and Brian Stelter of CNN have now put together a timeline of Williams’ and NBC’s accounts of the incident, which indicates that on at least seven occasions (in 2003, 2005, twice in 2007, 2008, 2013, and now in 2015) Williams has implied or asserted that his helicopter was part of a group of four helicopters that was fired upon. CNN’s timeline doesn’t note that he made that assertion in 2003, but he did, saying on-air that his craft was “third in line” out of four and that it “landed immediately” with the others after ground fire.

This is a point worth emphasizing given Williams’ statement Wednesday that the “fog of war” and passage of time contributed to his disavowed claim to have been in a helicopter that was struck: Williams’ very first account of the incident is disputed by soldiers who were there.

Meanwhile, the Daily Caller has uncovered a clip of Williams telling Alec Baldwin on WNYC radio in 2013 that he was “briefly” afraid for his life because of the “rounds coming into the airframe” of the helicopter he was traveling in. Williams was, by his own admission, not in the helicopter whose airframe was struck, so his memory of being terrified is a second-level embellishment—a memory of how he felt about an experience he didn’t have.

Update, Feb. 5, 5 p.m.: Helicopter pilot Rich Krell told CNN today he was flying the helicopter Williams was riding in during the incident in question and that it was struck by small-arms fire (not by RPG fire). Other soldiers dispute this account, and Williams does not seem to have mentioned at any other time that his helicopter was struck by small-arms fire, only that it was fired at. But Krell’s account does support the possibility that Williams was being truthful in his conversation with Baldwin.