You Know That Story About Brian Williams Being on a Downed Chopper in Iraq? Turns Out It Didn’t Happen

The NBC anchor admits he wasn't on a helicopter forced down in Iraq by RPG and small-arms fire.

Screen Shot 2015-02-04 at 6crop

Last Thursday NBC anchor Brian Williams stood up at Madison Square Garden and clapped along with thousands of New York Rangers fans when a retired soldier was given a round of applause for his 24 years in the Army and his role in keeping Williams and his television crew safe after their helicopter was forced down after being hit by a rocket propelled grenade in Iraq.

Now, it turns out that the last part of that story — the bit about Williams’s brush with death — isn’t quite true. According to Stars and Stripes, Williams and his crew were in fact traveling in a Chinook helicopter that wasn’t anywhere close to the chopper that took RPG fire in March 2003. Williams instead arrived more than an hour after the other choppers had made emergency landings. (The retired soldier, former Command Sergeant Major Tim Terpak, was responsible for Williams’s security while he was on the ground, and the two men kept in touch over the years.)

On his Friday broadcast, Williams recounted his visit to the Rangers game with Terpak and once again told the incorrect tale of his chopper’s forced landing. “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,” Williams said on the broadcast.

The crew members on the chopper that had in fact been hit by the RPG and small-arms fire saw the segment and were outraged. “It felt like a personal experience that someone else wanted to participate in and didn’t deserve to participate in,” Lance Reynolds, the chopper’s flight engineer, told Stars and Stripes.

Confronted with the information, Williams admitted on Wednesday that his aircraft did not come under fire that day. “Because I have no desire to fictionalize my experience 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,” Williams said in a statement to Stars and Stripes.

Williams isn’t the first public figure to have fabricated a bit of combat experience. In an episode reminiscent of the Williams affair, Hillary Clinton claimed during the 2008 presidential campaign that she came under sniper fire when she traveled to Bosnia in 1996. That also turned out to be incorrect, and Clinton apologized.

You can watch the full NBC segment here:


Elias Groll is a staff writer at Foreign Policy. Twitter: @EliasGroll

Tag: Media

Trending Now Sponsored Links by Taboola

By Taboola

More from Foreign Policy

By Taboola