NBC News anchor Brian Williams told actor Alec Baldwin in March 2013 that he was afraid he was going to die when a Chinook helicopter he was riding in during the Iraq War was hit by a rocket-propelled grenade.
But as Williams admitted on Wednesday, he was never in a Chinook that came under fire on March, 23, 2003. Instead, he was in a helicopter miles behind the one that was hit.
The interview with Baldwin, which was conducted on WNYC’s “Here’s the Thing,” is the first one to be uncovered following Williams’ retraction.
“I guess I do say to myself and to others — ‘I’ve got this’ — and I don’t know where that unbridled confidence comes from,” Williams told Baldwin, trying to describe where he gets his thirst for action and challenge.
“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.
“Did you think you would die?” Baldwin asked.
“Briefly, sure,” Williams said. “There have been probably more than …” he said, before trailing off.
In his retraction and apology, Williams claimed that he inadvertently made up the story because he became confused after viewing so many different pictures from that day, causing him to suffer from a “fog of memory.”
That leaves open the question of whether his fear of death during the attack also developed amid a similar, legitimate state of confusion, or something else.
As CNN noted in a timeline of Williams’ past remarks on the incident, over the 12 years Williams has told the story, he has gradually placed himself closer to the action of that day.
Days after the attack, Williams reported on NBC, “On the ground, we learn the Chinook ahead of us was almost blown out of the sky.”
But by the time he sat for a 2005 interview with NBC’s Tim Russert, Williams left viewers with the impression that he had witnessed the attack.
“The helicopter in front of us was hit. A pickup truck stopped on the road, pulled a tarp back; a guy got up, fired an RPG, rocket-propelled grenade. These were farmers, or so they seemed. And it beautifully pierced the tail rotor of the Chinook in front of us,” Williams said.
Sgt. 1st Class Joseph Miller, who was the flight engineer on Williams’ Chinook, wrote on Facebook that the helicopter came upon the downed aircraft and two other aircraft about 30 to 45 minutes after the attack.
Weeks after the interview with Baldwin, Williams was interviewed by David Letterman and gave his most detailed rendition to date.
“We were in some helicopters. What we didn’t know was we were north of the invasion. We were the northern-most Americans in Iraq. We were going to drop some bridge portions across the Euphrates so the Third Infantry could cross on them. Two of our four helicopters were hit by ground fire, including the one I was in. RPG and AK-47.”
Williams’ story began to unravel last week after he aired a segment in which he told the tale for what is likely to be the last time.
When the news clip was published on NBC’s Facebook page, several of the soldiers present on the helicopters grounded that day — including Miller — commented and said that Williams was being untruthful. Some called him a liar.
Miller told Stars and Stripes that the Chinook he and the NBC crew were riding in did not take any fire at all.
Williams offered an apology to the soldiers on Facebook on Wednesday. He also apologized on air.
[h/t Phil Kerpen]