NBC Brian Williams' derring-do untrue, Not in Iraq helicopter crash in 2003, Apologizes - iMediaEthics

iMediaEthics publishes international media ethics news stories and investigations into journalism ethics lapses.


Home » Apologies & Retractions»

Brian Williams reported last week that he was on a heliopter that was shot down by an RPG (Credit: NBC, screenshot)

Brian Williams falsely claimed on air last week that he was in a helicopter that was shot down in 2003 during the invasion of Iraq.

Williams apologized and took back those claims today after being confronted on Facebook.

Williams reported on the retirement of U.S. Army Major Tim Terpak and his reunion with Terpak at a New York Rangers hockey game. He said on air that there was 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.”

“Our traveling NBC News team was rescued, surrounded and kept alive by an armored mechanized platoon….Mgr Tim Terpak was put in charge of our safety…”



The false claim about Williams’ and NBC News’ helicopter being shot down was aired at the Rangers game at Madison Square Garden as well.

The tale was called out by flight engineer Lance Reynolds in a post on Facebook Jan. 31. Reynolds wrote:

“Sorry dude, I don’t remember you being on my aircraft. I do remember you walking up about an hour after we had landed to ask me what had happened. Then I remember you guys taking back off in a different flight of Chinooks from another unit and heading to Kuwait to report your “war story” to the Nightly News. The whole time we were still stuck in Iraq trying to repair the aircraft and pulling our own Security.”

Williams’ apology, posted today on Facebook by his verified Facebook account, admitted he made a “mistake” and conflated two events.

“I was wrong,” he wrote, to say he was on the helicopter. “I was indeed on the Chinook behind the bird that took the RPG in the tail housing just above the ramp,” he wrote.

WIlliams also apologized in an interview with Stars and Stripes, confirming “we never came under direct enemy fire to the aicraft.”

Williams’ apology reads in full:

“To Joseph, Lance, Jonathan, Pate, Michael and all those who have posted: You are absolutely right and I was wrong. In fact, I spent much of the weekend thinking I’d gone crazy. I feel terrible about making this mistake, especially since I found my OWN WRITING about the incident from back in ’08, and I was indeed on the Chinook behind the bird that took the RPG in the tail housing just above the ramp. Because I have no desire to fictionalize my experience (we all saw it happened the first time) and no need to dramatize events as they actually happened, I think the constant 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. I certainly remember the armored mech platoon, meeting Capt. Eric Nye and of course Tim Terpak.

“Shortly after they arrived, so did the Orange Crush sandstorm, making virtually all outdoor functions impossible. I honestly don’t remember which of the three choppers Gen. Downing and I slept in, but we spent two nights on the stowable web bench seats in one of the three birds. Later in the invasion when Gen. Downing and I reached Baghdad, I remember searching the parade grounds for Tim’s Bradley to no avail.

“My attempt to pay tribute to CSM Terpak was to honor his 23+ years in service to our nation, and it had been 12 years since I saw him. The ultimate irony is: In writing up the synopsis of the 2 nights and 3 days I spent with him in the desert, I managed to switch aircraft. Nobody’s trying to steal anyone’s valor. Quite the contrary: I was and remain a civilian journalist covering the stories of those who volunteered for duty. This was simply an attempt to thank Tim, our military and Veterans everywhere — those who have served while I did not.”

iMediaEthics has written to NBC News for confirmation and to ask if the apology will be broadcast.

UPDATE: 2/4/2015 6:53, 7:15 PM EST Williams apologized on air just now. “I made a mistake in recalling the events of 12 years ago,” WIlliams said in part. “It did not take long to hear from some brave men and women in the air crews…I want to apologize. I said I was traveling in an aircraft that was hit by RPG fire. I was instead in a following aircraft,” he said in part.

He added, “This was a bungled attempt by me to thank” the military members.

See the video below via Hollywood Reporter.


UPDATE: 2/4/2015 7:32 PM EST The Washington Post’s Erik Wemple has examples of how Williams has described the 2003 incident over the years.

UPDATE: 2/4/2015 9:46 PM EST NBC News published a news story about Williams’ apology but called his statement a “clarifcation” as opposed to a correction or retraction.

Hat Tip: Brian Stelter


Submit a tip / Report a problem

NBC Brian Williams’ derring-do untrue, Not in Iraq helicopter crash in 2003, Apologizes

Share this article: