Brian Williams: The Complete List of Disputed Stories

  Words by Mike Weisbecker.

Brian Williams.  Anchor of NBC Nightly News and its managing editor. 

He did an on air piece to honor a retiring Command Sergeant Major that he met when he was a reporter in Iraq back in 2003.  He was at a NY Rangers hockey game the night before when the CSM was being honored and this prompted Williams to spend two minutes on the Jan 30th, 2015 broadcast recounting how he met the now CSM.  In Iraq, the helicopter carrying Williams was hit by an RPG and the CSM was part of the security detail that came in to secure the chopper.  He gave his praise to the CSM and all the military. 

Good stuff right?

Pretty quickly, members of the unit (159th Aviation Regiment), specifically the stricken chopper’s flight engineer contacted Stars and Stripes stating that Williams was not on the chopper, in fact his chopper flight was at least a half hour behind the flight that was hit with a RPG.

Once this hit the press it was now scramble mode at NBC.  Williams made an on air apology stating that he “conflated” stories and “misremembered” the incident.

I have never been in an aircraft (fixed or rotary wing) that was close enough to take ground fire such as AK-47 or RPG’s.  I have been through other incidents in flight (engine issues, smoke and fumes in the cabin, pressurization, etc).  You don’t misremember things like that.   Pretty sure taking an RPG thru the tail of my chopper would top my list and very vividly.

Turns out he has misremembered the tale different ways over the 12 years since.  And it turns out that the military folks have been venting about it almost since the original story aired in 2003. 

This is very disappointing on several levels.  Williams has been an advocate for military and veterans groups for a long time.  Kind of nice to have someone at his level on your side for fundraising.  It is a level of Stolen Valor to many of us in the military family.  And it’s disrespectful to those reporters who have been to the front with the military and lost their lives (Google Ernie Pyle).  There is even a question of a rescue he supposedly helped with as a teenage volunteer firefighter in New Jersey maybe not being as he told it.Now many of his past stories are being scrutinized.  His account of a body floating face down past his French Quarter hotel?  The hotel manager says he’s full of hot air. 

Things get exaggerated over time.  Some bits fall out of the story and grander bits take their place.  Everyone knows of some they served with who embellish around the taps at the VFW. 

But this is someone who we expect to have the integrity we like to hope journalists still have.

The list of disputed stories

The Iraq RPG Helicopter Hit

— “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.” — NBC Nightly News, January 30, 2015

— “It was no more than 120 seconds later that the helicopter in front of us was hit.” —Brian Williams to Tim Russert on CNBC, March 2005

— “I was instead following the aircraft” [that was struck by the RPG]. — NBC Nightly News, Wednesday February 5, 2015

— Williams’ original [March 26, 2003, NBC News] report indicated that a helicopter in front of his was hit. — PolitiFact

— NBC publishes a book [in 2003], “Operation Iraqi Freedom,” in which they describe Williams’ experience, implying that his helicopter sustained fire. — PolitiFact

— May 2008: Williams writes another [NBC News] blog, responding to a note from a soldier who he met in Iraq. In this post, Williams indicates that he was in a helicopter that took fire. — PolitiFact

— “I’ve done some ridiculously stupid things under that banner, like being in a helicopter I had no business being in Iraq with rounds coming into the airframe,” he said [to Alec Baldwin in March 2014] — PolitiFact

— “We were in some helicopters. What we didn’t know was, we were north of the invasion. We were the northernmost Americans in Iraq. We were going to drop some bridge portions across the Euphrates so the Third Infantry could cross on them. Two of the four helicopters were hit, by ground fire, including the one I was in, RPG and AK-47. —Williams to Letterman on March 26, 2013 — PolitiFact.

— In the initial NBC broadcast where he described his 2003 Iraq reporting mission, embattled NBC anchor Brian Williams falsely claimed that “we saw the guy . . . [who] put a round through the back of a chopper,” which he further and incorrectly claimed was “the Chinook [helicopter] in front of us.” — Breitbart

— “We flew over a bridge. He waved to the lead pilot very kindly. With that someone else removed the tarp, stood up, and put a round through the back of a chopper missing the rear rotor by four or five feet.” — To Tom Brokaw on March 26, 2003 — Breitbart

— “[Y]ou go back to Iraq, and I looked down the tube of an RPG that had been fired at us and it hit the chopper in front of ours.” — Williams to Fairfield University in 2007 —  Ace of Spades


SEAL Team 6 Tale

— “We have some idea which of our special operations teams carried this out,” Williams said on “The Late Show With David Letterman” the day after the raid [May 2, 2011]. “It happens to be a team I flew into Baghdad with, on the condition that I would never speak of what I saw on the aircraft, what aircraft we were on, what we were carrying, or who we were after.” — Huffington Post

— “Now, people might be hearing about SEAL Team 6,” Williams said the next night, May 3, 2011, on “Nightly News.” “I happen to have the great honor of flying into Baghdad with them at the start of the war.” — Huffington Post

— “I flew into Baghdad, invasion plus three days, on a blackout mission at night with elements of SEAL Team 6, and I was told not to make any eye contact with them or initiate any conversation,” Williams said. (Three days after the U.S. invasion would have been March 22, 2003, not April 9, 2003, which was the day Williams broadcasted from the Baghdad airport.) — To David Letterman in May of 2012 — Huffinton Post

— In the 2012 “Late Show” appearance, Williams also recalled carrying a box of Wheat Thins, which he said a hungry special operator dug into with a “hand the size of a canned ham.” They got to talking, and Williams told the commando how much he admired his knife. “Darned if that knife didn’t show up at my office a couple weeks later,” Williams told Letterman. — Huffington Post

— “About six weeks after the Bin Laden raid, I got a white envelope and in it was a thank-you note, unsigned,” Williams said on “Letterman” in January 2013. “And in it was a piece of the fuselage of the blown-up Black Hawk in that courtyard. Sent to me by one of my friends.” — Huffington Post

— In February 2014, Williams elaborated on the helicopter gift in another media appearance, this time on the sports talk show hosted by Dan Patrick. “It’s one of the toughest things to get,” he said, “and the president has a piece of it as well … It’s made of a material most people haven’t seen or held in their hands.” – Huffington Post


Fall of the Berlin Wall

— “I’ve been so fortunate,” he said during a 2008 forum at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library. “I was at the Brandenburg Gate the night the wall came down.” — CNN

— “Here’s a fact: 25 years ago tonight, Tom Brokaw and I were at the Berlin Wall,” Williams said at a gala held on November 8, 2014. — CNN


The Pope

— “I was there during the visit of the pope,” Williams said [in 2002]. — CNN

— While delivering the commencement address at Catholic University that year [2004], Williams said the “highlight” of his time at the school “was in this very doorway, shaking hands with the Holy Father during his visit to this campus.” — CNN


Katyusha Rocket Fire

— “There were Katyusha rockets passing just beneath the helicopter I was riding in,” he told a student interviewer from Fairfield (Conn.) University that year [2007]. —Washington Post



— “All of us watched [in the Superdome] as one man committed suicide.” — Williams to Tom Brokaw, at Columbia University in 2013.

–. My week, two weeks there was not helped by the fact that I accidentally ingested some of the floodwater. I became very sick with dysentery.” — Williams to Tom Brokaw at Columbia University in 2013.

— “Our hotel was overrun with gangs. I was rescued in the stairwell of a five-star hotel in New Orleans by a young police officer – we are friends to this day.” — Williams to Tom Brokaw at Columbia University in 2013.

— “When you look out of your hotel window in the French Quarter and watch a man float by face down, when you see bodies that you last saw in Banda Aceh, Indonesia, and swore to yourself that you would never see in your country,” Williams told Eisner [in 2006], who suggested in the interview that Williams emerged from former NBC News anchor Tom Brokaw’s shadow with his Katrina coverage. — USA Today

— In Williams’s telling, the pathos of the scene extended to his crew’s access to food. “We were desperate for food and drink. But not like the people we were seeing in the streets,” he said in the documentary “In His Own Words: Brian Williams on Hurricane Katrina.” —Washington Post


Puppy Rescue

— “I remember one such house fire — the structure was fully involved with flames and smoke. I was wearing a breathing apparatus, conducting a search on my hands and knees, when I felt something warm, squishy and furry on the floor of a closet. I instinctively tucked it in my coat.” — October 2011, USA Today

— “All I ever did as a volunteer fireman was once save two puppies.” — January 2007, Esquire


Christmas Tree Robbery

In a 2005 interview with Esquire magazine, Williams said a thief drew on him in the 1970s — leaving him “looking up at a thug’s snub-nosed .38 while selling Christmas trees out of the back of a truck.” – NY Post


Quitting College

— “One day, I’m at the copy machine in the White House and Walter Mondale comes up behind me and clears his throat. A classic throat-clearing. I thought people only did that in movies, but it turns out vice-presidents do it, too. Anyway, it makes for an exceptionally good morning, and I run from the White House to the GW campus for class. I’m still wearing my West Wing hard pass on a chain, and when my professor sees it, he admits that he’s only been to the White House on the public tour. And I thought to myself, This is costing me money that I don’t have, and I’m a young man in too much of a hurry. So I left school.” — Brian Williams to Esquire, 2005

— But then a friend invited him to drive to Washington, D.C., for a weekend, and everything changed. Smitten with the city and its youthful energy, Williams decided to move there. He transferred what credits he could from Brookdale to Catholic University and took a job in the public relations department to help pay his expenses. He landed an internship at the White House, and when that ended, he answered an ad for a clerking job at a broadcasting association. — 2009, New Jersey-Star Ledger


“That’s Brian being Brian” became the newsroom shorthand. — Washington Post

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