NBC “Nightly News” anchor Brian Williams apologized Wednesday for incorrectly claiming as recently as last week that he rode on a helicopter that came under enemy fire when he was reporting in Iraq in 2003.
Instead, Williams said, he was in another helicopter trailing a Chinook that actually was hit. He apologized on “Nightly News” for getting it wrong.
The embarrassing admission came after a story in the Stars and Stripes newspaper pointing out the discrepancy. Williams had made the claim on the air last Friday during a story about Tim Terpak, an Army officer who he had befriended when Terpak was assigned to protect the NBC crew.
Williams reported on “Nightly News” that he had gone with Terpak to a New York Rangers hockey game. They were introduced to the audience by the public address announcer, who also repeated the claim that Williams’ helicopter had been hit.
“There were two eureka moments,” Stars and Stripes Managing Editor Robert Reid said. “One moment came when we began to get multiple people in different parts of the United States telling us the same story. And, when we reached out to NBC and they promised to have Williams get back to us and made very clear that when he got back to us it would not be a denial of what the soldiers had said. So at that point we knew – we have the story.”
“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,” Williams said on the air Wednesday. “I hope they know they have my greatest respect and also now my apology.”
Stars and Stripes quoted Lance Reynolds, the flight engineer on the crew that rode with Williams, as saying that “it felt like a personal experience that someone else wanted to participate in and didn’t deserve to participate in.”
The newspaper said Williams’ helicopter traveled about an hour behind the aircraft that actually took fire.
In a Facebook response to service members who had pointed out the mistake, Williams said that “I spent much of the weekend thinking I’d gone crazy.”
NBC noted that a “Dateline NBC” story in 2003 correctly reported that Williams learned after his helicopter had landed that “the Chinook ahead of us was almost blown out of the sky.” Williams said he also wrote about the incident correctly in 2008.
This story is compiled with information from The Associated Press.