The Brian Williams scandal has burst onto the public square through a feat of Internet accountability. After NBC Nightly News last week posted to Facebook a clip of the anchor reminiscing about having embedded with the U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003, some Facebookers took issue with the particulars. Whereas Williams claimed that he was riding in a helicopter that was forced down after being hit by an RPG, others had a different recollection. “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,” wrote Lance Reynolds in a Facebook comment responding to the Williams segment.
In issuing an on-air apology for his “mistake” in misremembering the circumstances of the March 2003 episode, Williams credited “some brave men and women in the air crews who were also in that desert” for debunking his set of facts. “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 on Wednesday night’s “NBC Nightly News.”
Why did it take pushback from “some brave men and women in the air crews,” however? Do these folks have to fight our wars and fact-check NBC News?
A production crew accompanied Williams on the helicopter outing. The Erik Wemple Blog has asked NBC News who and how many people were on that crew. But where have they been as Williams has gone about misremembering the episode in media appearances in recent years? Upon the 10th anniversary of the incident, the anchor visited David Letterman and couldn’t have been more unequivocal about having ridden in the ‘copter under attack: “Two of the four helicopters were hit, by ground fire, including the one I was in, RPG and AK-47,” Williams told the “Late Show” host.
Also in March 2013, Williams told Alec Baldwin in an interview on WNYC’s “Here’s The Thing.” Speaking of his tendency to say “I’ve got this” in sticky situations, he said, “And I’ve done some ridiculously stupid things under that banner, like being in a helicopter I had no business being in in Iraq with rounds coming into the airframe,” Williams said.
Again: Where were Williams’s crew members, who surely knew that Williams had either “conflated” his Chinook with another Chinook — his explanation — or was using the passage of time to embellish his own exploits — another explanation. And what of other NBC News employees who worked on the story? Why did they remain silent on these matters? Are they still with NBC News?
We put these questions to NBC News and haven’t heard back.
By all logic, NBC News would like to rest on Williams’s apology, ride out the media storm and, eventually, move ahead with things. Yet the fact that personnel aside from Williams knew that his statements on these events were erroneous should prompt an internal probe as to how these falsehoods circulated so freely.