NBC’s Brian Williams Apologizes for Mistake in Iraq War Helicopter Story

NBC News anchor Brian Williams admitted Wednesday that he inaccurately recalled a story from the Iraq war in which he claimed he was on a helicopter shot at by ground fire.

“It did not take long to hear from some brave men and women in the air crews who were also in that desert,” said Williams, referring to user comments made on a clip posted by NBC Nightly News With Brian Williamsto Facebook.

“I want to apologize,” he added.

During the 2-minute long segment, Williams says that he was in the helicopter hit by an RPG. But he was actually in a following aircraft, a fact pointed out by Facebook commenter Lance Reynolds, who was on the Chinook that was shot at.

“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,” he said during Wednesday night's Nightly News program. “I hope they know they have my greatest respect and also now my apology.”

Williams first apologized for the error to Stars and Stripes.

“I would not have chosen to make this mistake,” Williams told the publication. “I don’t know what screwed up in my mind that caused me to conflate one aircraft with another.”

The journalist also issued an apology via Facebook:

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.

In a March 26, 2003 Dateline special, Williams recalled the incident correctly, saying “On the ground, we learn the Chinook ahead of us was almost blown out of the sky.”

However, a search of NBC News archives pulls a clip titled “Target Iraq: Helicopter NBC's Brian Williams Was Riding In Comes Under Fire.”

In a 2008 blog post, Williams also wrote about the incident, saying: "The Chinook helicopter flying in front of ours (from the 101st Airborne) took an RPG to the rear rotor, as all four of our low-flying Chinooks took fire.”

The longtime NBC Nightly News anchor recently extended his contract with the Peacock Network. During Williams’ tenure at the anchor desk, Nightly News has topped nightly newscasts among total viewers for the last five years.


Jessika Walsten

Jessika is content engagement director of Broadcasting + Cable, Multichannel News and NextTV. She has been with the brands in various roles since 2013. In her current role, she works primarily behind the screen, keeping an eye on the website and fixing any site bugs. A graduate of USC Annenberg, Jessika has edited and reported on a variety of subjects for NextTV, including profiles on industry leaders and breaking news.