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Veterans force NBC’s Brian Williams to apologize

NBC News anchor Brian Williams said on NBC Nightly News Wednesday he made a mistake when he said on the air last week that he had been in a military helicopter that was hit by a rocket propelled grenade in the opening days of the American invasion of Iraq 12 years ago.

On Friday, Williams read the introduction to a story about a veteran he met in Iraq. They stayed in touch over the years and Williams invited the solider to a hockey game. At the game, they were surprised that the game announcer told the crowd about the chance encounter after Williams’ chopper was shot down.

Williams said on the air:

“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. Our traveling NBC News team was rescued, surrounded and kept alive by an armor mechanized platoon from the U.S. Army 3rd Infantry.”

The whole story was repeated by the public address announcer at the hockey game.

As soon as the story aired, soldiers who served in Iraq began complaining.

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Stars and Stripes Capital Hill reporter Travis Tritten first reported  Wednesday that he noticed the chatter on Facebook and began “pulling threads.” Tritten told me “Your gut tells you there is something there you have to look into.”

Tritten spoke with several officers and soldiers who were on the ground in Iraq and had first-hand knowledge of the RPG incident, he said.

Tritten became convinced that Williams was on a helicopter that was behind the one that was hit. How far behind is still unclear. “It appears they were far behind, in a different formation of aircraft.”  Some of those who posted on Facebook said the NBC crew was up to an hour behind the chopper that was hit.

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“A lot of these crew members have been pissed off about this since 2003, one guy says every time he sees Brian Williams he starts to shake he is so angry,” Tritten said.

NBC Publicity pointed me to a note that Williams posted on Facebook saying he “felt terrible” about making the mistake and he had “no desire to fictionalize the incident.” He said 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.”

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In 2010, when Williams spoke at a commencement at Notre Dame, the school’s website included a bio that mentioned the RPG hitting a chopper, but that version of the story was different. The bio didn’t say the RPG hit the chopper Williams was in:

While covering the war in Iraq, Williams became the first NBC News correspondent to reach Baghdad after the U.S. military invasion of the city. Just days into the war, Williams was traveling on a U.S. Army Chinook helicopter mission when the lead helicopter was shot down by a rocket-propelled grenade. Williams spent three days and two nights in the Iraqi desert south of Najaf, with a mechanized armored tank platoon of the Army’s Third Infantry Division providing protection. During the war, Williams traveled to seven nations throughout the Middle East during his seven-week overseas deployment.

Wednesday evening on NBC Nightly News, Williams mentioned the controversy:

“On this broadcast last week, in an effort to honor a veteran who protected me and so many others, after a ground-fire incident in the desert in the Iraq War invasion I made a mistake in recalling the events of 12 years ago. It did not take long to hear from some brave men and women in the air crews who were also in that desert.  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. We landed after the ground fire incident and spent two harrowing nights in a sandstorm in the Iraq desert.

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 everywhere while I did not. I hope they know they have my greatest respect and also now, my apology.”

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from Poynter. http://ift.tt/1D0kOLs

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