As the Sands Shift
So what triggered William’s misremembering? PTSD triggered by too many years of playing Call of Duty? Or unbridled confidence?
In Williams’ original video report from Kuwait City aired on March 26, 2003 on NBC’s Dateline, Tom Brokaw introduced the report: “Our colleague Brian Williams is back in Kuwait City tonight after a close call in the skies over Iraq. Brian, tell us about what you got yourself into.” From the beginning, ‘close-call’ Williams fed Brokaw and the American public a lie.
Brian Williams: We quickly make our drop and then turn southwest. Suddenly, without knowing why, we learned we’ve been ordered to land in the desert. On the ground, we learn the Chinook ahead of us was almost blown out of the sky. That hole was made by a rocket-propelled grenade, or RPG, fired from the ground. It punched cleanly through the skin of the ship, but amazingly it didn’t detonate. Though the chopper pilots are too shaken to let us interview them, (Huh? Really dude? Too shaken?) we learned they were shot at by some of those waving civilians, one of whom emerged from under a tarp on a pick-up truck like this one and shot the grenade. We meet a unit from the 3rd Infantry called in, as it turns out, to protect us from the enemy which they say doesn’t look like the enemy.
On September 27, 2007, Williams wrote on his NBC News blog entitled The Long Gray Line (how ironic, not black and white facts, just shades of gray?): “. . . some men on the ground fired an RPG through the tail rotor of the chopper flying in front of ours. There was small arms fire. A chopper pilot took a bullet through the earlobe.” Hmmm . . . pretty detailed . . . I think I’d remember if my helicopter took a hit or my pilot took a bullet through the earlobe — of course unless, it never happened. And according to the pilot in command of the helicopter carrying Williams, “I do not have a Purple Heart, and my ears are just fine.” So “got shot down?” or “didn’t get shot down?” Was that just another little ‘minor’ detail? The more likely scenario had Williams been shot down? Williams cowering in the webbing thinking: Uh oh, dysentery time. Where’s the toilet paper? Apparently, the only thing hitting William’s aircraft? Dust, sand and BS.
Havana Joe said it best: “Thanks, dude. While in Nam, I rode in more than a few UH-1 Hueys. We got shot at a few times but I was never in one that got shot down and am sorry you did. That one always seemed a bit small when I saw them. Since I remember every traumatic minute of my tour . . . as you do, I’m sure I’d recall if I were shot down as well. 45 years or so hasn’t given me a foggy memory either, but Mr. Williams is giving it the old college try . . . or lie.”
First three Chinooks, now four helicopters: On May 12, 2008, Williams wrote about the “only reason we lived to see U.S. soil or our families again” on his NBC News blog: We came under fire by what appeared to be Iraqi farmers with RPG’s and AK-47’s. The Chinook helicopter flying in front of ours (from the 101st Airborne) took an RPG to the rear rotor, as all four of our low-flying Chinooks took fire. We were forced down and stayed down — for the better (or worse) part of 3 days and 2 nights. Soon after we hit the desert floor, (just as we were wondering how we were going to survive this unplanned stay in the desert south of Najaf, and just as General Downing was going to propose “the distribution of weapons,”) we heard the sound of approaching Bradley Fighting Vehicles — an armored mechanized platoon under the command of a young West Pointer, Lt. Eric Nye. He ordered his men to dismount (I’ve never ‘dismounted’ a tank, but do soldiers really ‘dismount’ a tank?) and dig in and surround us. They set up a perimeter, they killed two Iraqis who arrived to fire on us again, and they are the only reason we lived to see U.S. soil, or our families, again.
Sidenote: “Williams gives new meaning to the terminology ‘Stolen Valor.’” — disabled Vietnam Vet.
Fast forward to March 4, 2013 in an Here’s The Thing interview on WNYC Radio with Alec Baldwin, Williams’ “I’ve got this” bravado started kicking in:
Brian Williams: Yeah, there’s this ‘I got this’ syndrome. I guess I do say to myself and to others, ‘I’ve got this.’ And I don’t know where that unbridled confidence came from, 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, but I . . .
Alec Baldwin: Did you think you would die?
Brian Williams: Briefly. Sure.
Fast forward ten years on the date Williams was ‘shot down’: By the time Williams setup David Letterman on March 26, 2013 to ask about the “I briefly see my dead body” incident, the Peabody award-winning anchor and managing editor of the NBC Nightly News delighted Letterman’s audience with his well-rehearsed ‘misremembering’ and ‘conflation’, which means to bring together, to fuse.
David Letterman: Tell me — uh, and if I knew this I forgot it, and if I forgot it I’m ashamed. Uh, something happened 10 years ago in Iraq. Tell people what that occurred.
Brian Williams: Uh, I brought a photo which arrived in my email two mornings ago of where I was — tonight — a decade ago.
David Letterman: This very day?
Brian Williams: This — very — day. Uh, this was, uh, me ten years ago and a young Command Sergeant Major (cut to picture Brian Williams supplied to Letterman’s staff). Uh, I was in Iraq. Now, uh, uh, couple of caveats here. Uh, as war correspondents go, I am the Herb Schmendrick of war correspondents. I’m not terribly good at it. (Thank you, you said it, we didn’t) It is not what I do full time. (Uh, uh, like our volunteer soldiers?) I’m mostly New York-based. I do go cover these two wars we’ve been fighting, and when I do, I like to go out on patrol. I like to get out in it. A guy like Richard Engel? The amount of fire we took on this day, his name for that is “Tuesday.” His name for that is “every day of his life.” We were in, uh, some helicopters. What we didn’t know was we were north of the invasion. We were the northern most Americans in Iraq. We (excuse me, “We?”) were going to drop some bridge portions across the Euphrates so the third infantry could cross on them. Uh, two of our four helicopters were hit by ground fire including the one I was in.
David Letterman: No kidding?
Brian Williams: RPG and AK-47’s.
David Letterman: What altitude were you hit at?
Brian Williams: We were only at 100 feet doing a hundred forward knots because we had these massive pieces of bridge beneath us on slings.
David Letterman: What happens the minute everybody realizes you’ve been hit?
Brian Williams: We (“We?”) figure out how to land safely and we (“We?”) did. We (“We?”) landed very quickly and hard and we put down and we were stuck. Four birds in the middle of the dessert and we were north out ahead of the other Americans.
David Letterman: Oh, my, so, so as a guy, as a journalist what do you think? This is a great position to be in or holy crap I’ve gotta get out of here?
Brian Williams: I, uh, more toward the holy crap. Yea. The “this is great” was flying over Iraq. Holy crap started when I realized the now deceased former four star general we were traveling with, Wayne Downing — said to me, uh, using an old Vietnam era, uh, term because he was a Vietnam infantryman, “we’re over Indian country.” Uh, you’ll forgive the political incorrectness. He said this is unpoliced virgin territory. We’re not near any U.S. troops. So we got hit, we sat down, everyone was okay, our captain took a purple heart injury to his ear in the cockpit, um, but we were alone. They started distributing weapons. We heard a noise and it was Bradley fighting vehicles and Abrams tanks coming. They happened to spot us. This was the invasion.
David Letterman: Oh my God . . .
Brian Williams: The U.S. Invasion, they saw us. They surrounded us for three days. During the sand storm that was so big it suspended the war effort. It was called Orange Crush and they got us out of there alive.
David Letterman: You were on the ground in combat . . .
David Letterman: Yep.
David Letterman: for three days?
Brian Williams: Unbeknownst to anyone back here. NBC sent my wife and children to The Breakers in Florida to keep their minds off of it and keep them occupied because no one knew where we were. We couldn’t be in touch. Tom Brokaw was the anchor, the war coverage was going on. Our late friend David Bloom was traveling in a tank across the countryside. This was prior to his death, uh, not because of, but during combat. We got out of there and everything is fine. But this young command sergeant Major, uh, Tim Turpack who is on something like his eighth deployment, he’s in Korea, sends me this picture “hey, buddy, here we were ten years ago this week.”
David Letterman: Let’s look at it again. (Cut to back-slapper picture of Williams and Turpack) This is him right there. Wow! Oh my god. (Audience claps, claps, claps, claps, claps, claps, crap!)
Brian Williams: But that’s what the Cavalry looks like. The Cavalry came for us and that’s what they look like.
David Letterman: I have to treat you now with, uh, renewed respect, that’s a tremendous story.
Uh, uh, uh, uh respect? “More toward the holy crap,” Brian Williams? We, we, we, we think, “Full of it.”