Brian Williams, the anchor and managing editor of NBC Nightly News, is the latest in a long line of public personalities to find out that the truth cannot be hidden for long, as he's currently being lambasted for falsely claiming he was aboard a helicopter that was "hit and crippled" by enemy fire during the invasion of Iraq in 2003.
Last Friday, during his NBC Nightly News broadcast, Williams reported on a tribute to a veteran, Tim Terpak, at the previous night's New York Rangers game. "The story actually started with a terrible moment a dozen years back during the invasion of Iraq when the helicopter we were traveling in was forced down after being hit by an RPG [rocket-propelled grendade]," Williams said before showing a video of him and Terpak receiving a standing ovation at Madison Square Garden. Williams also told David Letterman a similar story back in 2013.
As it turns out, Williams' aircraft was not actually hit at all. Instead, he was traveling on a different aircraft which was flying behind the aircraft which had been hit.
After Friday's broadcast, Iraq War veteran Lance Reynolds identified himself in a Facebook thread on the Nightly News page as a soldier aboard the helicopter Williams referenced in the segment. "Sorry dude, I don't remember you being on my aircraft," Reynolds wrote. Others who claimed they were involved in the incident chimed in as well, saying that Williams' aircraft had not been struck.
On Wednesday, Williams apologized on Nightly News and in a Facebook post. "I made a mistake in recalling the events of 12 years ago...I want to apologize," Williams said on Nightly News. "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," he added on Facebook.
The apology didn't sit well with many critics, and many took to Twitter to poke fun at Williams for "misremembering" the incident. More seriously, some argue that this incident will lead to his undoing as the face of NBC's news operation. As Williams attempts to clean up the mess, a clear lesson for those in the public spotlight rings out: Even 12 years later, a lie or "misremembered" incident can and will come back to haunt you. It's best to get your details—especially when they concern a life-threatening incident—in order before making them public.
Follow Brian Greene on Twitter: @bw_greene