Williams in 2007: I looked down the tube of that RPG launcher; Update: Williams to take “next several days” off as leave of absence
posted at 11:31 am on February 7, 2015 by Ed Morrissey
Via Ace and Twitter user Niedermeyer’s Dead Horse, yet another tale of Brian Williams’ heroism on that fateful day in Iraq in 2003 has emerged, this time from 2007. Don’t forget that the absolutely false version of his helicopter ride being hit by an RPG had been floating around since 2004, this time the story has even more compelling detail. Williams tells Fairfield University reporter Emily Fitzmaurice in November 2007 about all of the close calls he’s had as a reporter, including the 2003 incident in Iraq in which he looked down the tube of the RPG launcher. Pick up the tales of Williams’ adventures at the two-minute mark:
WILLIAMS: I’ve been very, very lucky the way my life has turned out. I’ve been very lucky to have survived a few things that I’ve been involved in. At a reception a few minutes ago, I was remembering — I tend to forget the war with Hezbollah in Israel a few years back, where there were Katyusha rockets passing just underneath the helicopter I was riding. A few years before that, we go back to Iraq, and I look down the tube of an RPG that had been fired at us, and it hit the chopper in front of ours. And I’m so fortunate to be sitting here.
Note that this time, though, Williams tells his interviewer that the RPG hit the chopper in front of his, rather than his own chopper. The target of the RPG keeps changing back and forth in these narratives, but in 2004, NBC News producer Justin Balding told author Mary Ward that the RPG hit their helicopter. Ward recounts the conversation in her October 2004 book Letters Home:From 9/11 to Operation Iraqi Freedom: A Military Mom Shares Her Family’s Story of Patriotism, Courage and Love (page 125):
It’s possible that Ward mistook what Balding said about which chopper got hit by the RPG, but the witnesses from that time have been consistent since it happened that Williams’ chopper never took fire of any kind, let alone an RPG. Williams never “looked down the tube” of an RPG, at least not on that trip — which Williams himself acknowledged this week. Once again, this shows that the lie about coming under attack is not some new conflation caused by the fog of war, but a fable Williams has spun ever since it happened, even while the details kept changing. Ward’s book also shows that Williams wasn’t alone in telling the fable.
Here’s a good question: Has anyone checked out the Katyusha rockets story, which sounds rather similar to Williams’ false story in Iraq? It’s entirely possible that it happened just as Williams relates here, but … has anyone verified it? Perhaps NBC News should look into that story too. Williams interviewed Martin Fletcher about it in July 2006 while in Israel, who was on the ground in Israel when the Katyushas hit. There is no mention of a close call for Williams, even though it would have fit within the framework of this interview:
Less than three weeks later, here’s Williams on The Daily Show, chatting up Jon Stewart about the Katyusha rockets whistling past him, starting at 4:10:
Note that in this telling on August 6, 2006, the rockets are 1500 feet below the helicopters; 15 months later, Williams tells the college reporter that they’re “passing just underneath” the helicopter and that he’s lucky to have survived it. Again, it’s entirely possible that Williams is on the level about flying in a helicopter with Katyushas flying around them. Perhaps the original description he told Stewart was accurate and the later description was “embellished.” But given what we’ve seen with the phony RPG-attack claims, someone might want to get more confirmation — and that someone had better be working for NBC News.
Update: Jeryl Bier found the NBC report on the Katyusha story:
— Jeryl Bier (@JerylBier) February 7, 2015
Hardly “just underneath the helicopter,” but not made up either.
Update: John Nolte has more on the Katyusha story. Also, Jeryl Bier comments:
— Jeryl Bier (@JerylBier) February 7, 2015
And thanks to Drudge for the link!
Update: Brian Williams has decided to take “the next several days” off to let the firestorm burn itself out:
In the midst of a career spent covering and consuming news, it has become painfully apparent to me that I am presently too much a part of the news, due to my actions.
As Managing Editor of NBC Nightly News, I have decided to take myself off of my daily broadcast for the next several days, and Lester Holt has kindly agreed to sit in for me to allow us to adequately deal with this issue. Upon my return, I will continue my career-long effort to be worthy of the trust of those who place their trust in us.
Williams is (for now at least) putting the responsibility on his own shoulders — or someone is making him do so. This is probably the smart move; by next week, the media focus should shift to other topics, and Williams can test the waters to see whether he’ll continue to be a distraction. Or, perhaps, NBC News is testing whether Lester Holt can take the job on a permanent basis. Howard Kurtz has this right:
In a nutshell, Brian Williams sees the story is too white-hot for him to keep anchoring right now and hopes it will cool off in a few days
— HowardKurtz (@HowardKurtz) February 7, 2015