WAIT! THIS JUST IN: “Tom Brokaw Denies Reports That He Wants Brian Williams To Be Fired,” the Huffington Post’s media page.
It’s all too predictable. The media—from today’s NY Post cover showing “Lyin’ Brian” with a foot-long Pinocchio nose to a Huff Post homepage headline this afternoon “Who’s buyin’ Lyin’ Brian?” (spoiler: I am)—are rushing to judgment about Brian Williams, when they know only too well how they easily themselves can make mistakes, misquote, misunderstand and misinterpret. (Which is apparently what happened with Page 6’s claim that the former NBC anchor wanted his successor fired.)
Brian Williams attributes his false statement that he was in an Army helicopter that took enemy fire in Iraq twelve years ago to “the fog of memory.” But fog can also overtake any story that the media rush to cover and sensationalize and plant with villains and victims.
It is true—at least from what we know now—that the NBC news anchor has told different versions of the helicopter story. The early stories were basically accurate—that he was in a helicopter behind another one that took fire from rocket-propelled grenades (RPG) and small-arms fire. The tale grew more vivid and frightening in later years, most notably on a Letterman appearance, in which Williams says he was in the chopper that was shot down. (For a detailed chronology go here, to Michael Calderone in Huff Post.) When unhappy air-crew veterans finally got through to NBC to point out the errors, Williams issued an on-air apology, and wrote on Facebook:
I feel terrible about making this mistake…. 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.
No one is exempt from misremembering, or relying on those who do. CNN media critic Brian Stelter had delivered the news earlier that the pilot flying Brian Williams’s chopper, Rich Krell, said the chopper did indeed take “small arms fire,” verifying at least part of Williams’s account. And it could explain a lot, because most of Williams’s stories mention both the RPG and the small-arms assaults without distinguishing which helicopter took which kind of fire. As he told Letterman on the tenth anniversary of the incident, “Two of our four helicopters were hit by ground fire, including the one I was in—RPG and AK-47.”