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Brian Williams ‘conflated’ Iraq war story

Photo by CAROLINE SCHAEFFER, IJReview

Photo by CAROLINE SCHAEFFER, IJReview

NBC Nightly News anchor Brian Williams’ Chinook helicopter may not have been hit by enemy fire while he covered the war in Iraq in 2003, but he is surely under fire now for lying about it.

Williams’ tale, which grew taller over the last 12 years, went from the chopper “ahead of us was almost blown out of the sky” to “the helicopter I was flying on was shot at.”

The controversy with Williams’ account of what happened that day in Iraq began after he aired a tribute segment on his Nightly News program last week of his reunion with Command Sargeant Tim Terpak, whom was put “in charge of his NBC crew’s safety” on the ground after they landed.

“The story actually started with a terrible moment a dozen years back, during the invasion of Iraq, when the helicopter we were traveling in was forced down after being hit by an RPG,” he announced as the segment started.

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After the segment aired, Stars and Stripes, a military newspaper, reported that crew members on the Chinook that was hit on that day told the paper that “the NBC anchor was nowhere near that aircraft or two other Chinooks flying in the formation that took fire.”

Click here to checkout CNN’s timeline of Williams’ many versions of this story.

“He was not shot at,” said Chris Simeone, the pilot in command of the CH-47 Chinook chopper carrying Williams on that day.

The Response

In response to the backlash Williams confirmed that he “conflated” the two choppers due to what he characterized as “fog of memory” and apologized for his “mistake in recalling the events of 12 years ago.”

“I think the constant memory 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.”

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The Verdict

The problem is, how do you forget being shot at versus not being shot at?
And why would a respectable, successful, and likable journalist with a $10 million a year contract and solid ratings fabricate such a story?

You may recall a similar incident in 2008 in which then Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton lied about having to “run for cover” when she landed in Bosnia under sniper fire in 1996 when she was first lady.

She later apologized for misrepresenting the facts of that trip after news reports disputed her account and video footage of her peaceful landing surfaced.

“So I made a mistake. That happens,” she said. “It proves I’m human, which, you know, for some people, is a revelation.”

But politicians misrepresent facts and will say anything to cater to their base. They exaggerate, flip-flop on issues, and flat-out lie and we call it “politics.”

But journalists are held to a different standard. We expect them to tell us the truth, the hard facts, and preferably though rarely, to do it in an unbiased way.

Williams did not only taint his career with this flub leading us to question every report he has ever made and the media at large to comb his stories for more of these “mistakes.” But also, he put a question mark over the integrity of the profession as a whole.

Though some may say NBC should fire Williams, or that Williams should resign, that is unlikely to happen because NBC would incur a much greater risk of losing viewership by replacing Williams than by keeping him. But it would probably be a good idea to take Williams off the air for a while, at least until the sandstorm dust settles.

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