It’s now fairly well documented that Brian Williams, anchor at NBC News, lied about being in an Army Chinook helicopter that came under fire. But it’s much worse than a simple lie — as diagrammed by the reporting of Stars and Stripes, it’s a battlefield embellishment that gradually turned into a bald-faced fabrication, and it amounts to stolen valor.
For a reporter in Williams’ position, really any reporter anywhere, credibility is everything. To have credibility during war, combat is everything, and what Williams did is steal that credibility from the military members who were actually on that bird.
On every occasion that he recreated this event, it was done so such that the invariable result was to add to Williams’ credibility as a reporter.
It certainly wasn’t for the troops’ sake that he recounted this story, in fact, it now seems that Williams used the pretense of honoring one of our troops at a Rangers’ game in order to provide context for him to repeat this fabrication, and as a result, once again bolster his warzone street cred.
As a Marine, and later a war correspondent, I’ve spent 16 months total in combat zones. Nonetheless, I can count on my hand how many times I’ve been under fire.
Following one particularly harrowing gunfight in Afghanistan, the Marines sat around talking about what had just happened. Already, within hours of the actual occurrences, embellishments started to occur. So did the mistakes. Some Marines thought the fighting lasted many hours, while others thought it was at most 45 minutes.
If the Ferguson trial taught us anything, it’s that human memory is fallible. If combat experience teaches us anything, it’s that almost no one is immune to embellishments.
I say this being honest. (I say this also knowing that most troops embellish at a bar or in someone’s backyard, not on NBC.)
Nevertheless, during that same gunfight, the Marine beside me took a round to the throat (more specifically, an inch above the right clavicle).
No amount of mistaking, mis-remembering, embellishing or “conflating,” as Williams so put it, would ever lead me to start telling folks that I once took a round to the throat in Afghanistan.
And why would I say that, other than to further my own image in the eyes of others?
Williams didn’t just lie, he stole. He plagiarized experiences on the battlefield and attributed them to himself. He stole valor and, for that, was rightfully called out by the troops who actually experienced the attack.
If NBC wants to recover from all of this hoopla, it needs to force him to resign.