During a March 2013 appearance on the “Late Show with David Letterman,” NBC News anchor Brian Williams told a particularly entertaining version of his tale about being shot down in a helicopter while covering the Iraq War.
The problem, as the longtime newsman admitted to the nation on Wednesday night, was that the story was bogus. The helicopter he was traveling in during his 2003 reporting trip was never shot down.
During the Letterman appearance, the NBC anchor started by poking a little fun at himself and praising his NBC colleague Richard Engel.
“As war correspondents go, I am the Herb Schmendrick of war correspondents. I’m not terribly good at it and it is not what I do full time,” he said. “I do go cover these two wars we’ve been fighting, and when I do, I like to go out on patrol, I like to get out in it. A guy like Richard Engel, the amount of fire we took on this day, his name for that is ‘Tuesday.’ His name for that is ‘every day of his life.'”
Williams then launched into his experience in a helicopter flying over Iraq during the 2003 invasion.
“Two of our four helicopters were hit by ground fire, including the one I was in — RPG and AK-47,” Williams said. “We landed very quickly and hard. And we put down and we were stuck. Four birds in the middle of the desert, and we were north out ahead of the other Americans.”
Watch Williams tell the story via YouTube. He begins talking about Iraq at the 2:50 mark.
Williams apologized on Wednesday for repeatedly saying that he was on board a helicopter that was hit during an RPG attack.
It’s clear from his earlier statements and reporting on the incident that he was on a helicopter flying over Iraq in 2003. However the Crew members on the 159th Aviation Regiment’s Chinook have said that Williams was never on board the aircraft that took fire.
The NBC anchor on Wednesday blamed his incorrect version of the story on “the fog of memory over 12 years.”
However, Williams has told multiple versions of the Iraq story since he was on board the helicopter in 2003.
In 2007, he wrote in a blog post that he was on an aircraft in a “flotilla of four twin-rotor Chinook helicopters” when “some men on the ground fired an RPG through the tail rotor of the chopper flying in front of ours.”
Last week, Williams told the story again during a tribute to Command Sgt. Major Tim Terpak. In that version, the NBC anchor said the helicopter on which he was flying was hit, but he did not say whether any other aircraft took fire.