If this turns out to be a lie, it might be one of more egregious of Brian Williams’ truncated-for-now career. As NBC goes through what has been described as a “dossier of lies” (which reportedly also includes his expense reporting), another tall tale has emerged from the public record. Ever since Seal Team 6 killed Osama bin Laden, Williams has told David Letterman and others that he embedded with the elite special-ops unit on several occasions, becoming close enough with them that the SEALs gave him a piece of the downed chopper in the bin Laden raid as a memento of their friendship.
A number of problems have arisen with this tale — chief among them that the Navy insists that they don’t embed reporters on special-ops missions. SooperMexican first raised questions about this story on February 8th, but now everyone else in the media has caught up to it:
CNN analyst Peter Bergen said on “Anderson Cooper 360” that he was told by sources in the Seal community that it would be impossible for Williams to have ever traveled with Seal Team 6.
“We do not embed journalists with any elements of that unit … bottom line — no,” one Special Operations Command official said.
In the case of the memorabilia that Williams says he received from “his friends” in the Seal community: “that doesn’t pass any sniff test,” another Seal officer told Bergen.
A spokeswoman for NBC News declined to comment.
— ¡El Sooopèrr! ن (@SooperMexican) February 8, 2015
The timing doesn’t add up either, the Huffington Post pointed out yesterday, as Williams didn’t arrive in Baghdad until three weeks after the war began; he had been broadcasting from Kuwait until then. Michael Calderone, Matt Sledge, and Hunter Stuart also question another rather strange claim Williams has made about his relationship with Seal Team 6:
According to Williams’ recollection, one special operator appreciated his relationship with the anchor so much that he sent Williams a precious token from the bin Laden raid.
“About six weeks after the Bin Laden raid, I got a white envelope and in it was a thank-you note, unsigned,” Williams said on “Letterman” in January 2013. “And in it was a piece of the fuselage of the blown-up Black Hawk in that courtyard. Sent to me by one of my friends.”
Needless to say, this is not just unlikely, it’s almost certainly untrue as told. The SEAL team had to leave that helicopter behind after destroying it, and loaded up on the only remaining chopper left in the mission to get out. They would have been unlikely to have spent any time picking apart the downed chopper for souvenirs. Besides, the helicopter was destroyed after SEAL Team 6 had evacuated, which HuffPo confirmed with Special Ops command. The US only got back parts of the aircraft months later from Pakistan’s government, which was embarrassed and outraged by the operation when it became known. HuffPo also heard from former SEAL Brandon Webb, who says the whole story stinks:
“My initial reaction is it sounds completely preposterous. There’s a healthy dislike towards embedded journalists within the SEAL community,” said Brandon Webb, a writer and former SEAL sniper who helped train Chris Kyle. “I can’t even remember an embed with a SEAL unit. And especially at SEAL Team Six? Those guys don’t take journalists with them on missions.”
Until now, most of Williams’ little fables seemed to have a basis of truth, distorted by subsequent exaggerations and aggrandizements. He actually did ride on that chopper that went down ahead of a sandstorm, but absorbed the attack on another unit into his own tale. Williams did get stuck at the Ritz Carlton during Hurricane Katrina, but wildly exaggerated his personal experiences, and so on. This looks more like straight-out fabulism of the kind that made TNR’s Stephen Glass a cautionary tale (and a lifetime excluded from practicing law). One has to wonder just how many more of these kinds of lies Williams has been telling all along. And whether NBC News will ever tell us.
Update: Hey, I don’t know about you, but I can’t wait for the new Robert Redford movie based on Rathergate that will argue that we should just trust network news anchors. How about you?
Update: The Associated Press’ Meghan Barr informs us that “everybody embellishes,” calling it a tradition that dates back to the Iliad. Barr includes Hillary Clinton’s Tuzla Dash in this category, by the way. Is that an admission by the AP about which we should get more details? Besides, this story doesn’t look like an embellishment at all, but a flat-out lie.