The story first broke on Stars and Stripes, only to spread like wildfire as mainstream media caught wind. On the day in question twelve years ago – March 24, 2003 – a trio of helicopters from Company F of the 159th Aviation Regiment, known as Big Windy, was flying from Camp Udairi, Kuwait, to a camp based near Najaf known within the Army as Objective Rams. Beneath one Chinook, loaded in slings, were Apache helicopter spare parts. That Chinook was flown by pilot-in-command Don Helus, who remembers the day with crystal clarity, and for good reason: that was the day Helus and the men with him faced death, and survived.
The helicopters were nearing their destination when things went sideways. Not only did they run headlong into the gritty depths of a sandstorm, they ran into the crosshairs of a bunch of scraggly insurgents in a pickup truck. The jihadists in the truck were armed with RPGs and AK-47s and immediately opened fire on the approaching Americans. They hit Helus’ Chinook twice, first with an RPG that failed to detonate, sailing right through the helicopter’s airframe and rotor blades; then another RPG hit took out the tail. Helus had no choice but to land and was fortunately able to do so safely, making a rolling landing before skidding into the desert; just as fortunately, they were close to their objective at Rams.
“It was something personal for us that was kind of life-changing for me. I know how lucky I was to survive it.” Lance Reynolds, flight engineer on the downed Chinook
For the men aboard the downed Chinook, the details are forever emblazoned upon their minds, from the grating whip of the sandstorm to the thunderous jarring of the RPGs to the gripping moments as Don Helus guided their wounded bird to the Iraqi desert below. Those aren’t moments any man would soon forget; you don’t “misremember” the day you nearly lost your life. But for Brian Williams, claiming a failed memory is precisely his approach.
The false claims didn’t start recently; they started small and grew. It began 12 years ago in an NBC report titled “Target Iraq: Helicopter NBC’s Brian Williams Was Riding In Comes Under Fire.” It was aired on the Nightly News and Dateline on March 26, 2003, and in it Williams made the following statement: “We are one of four Chinook helicopters flying north this morning, third in line. As we head toward the drop point, the Iraqi landscape looks quiet. We can see a convoy of American troop carriers and supply vehicles heading north.” In that first 2003 account, Williams goes on to say the helicopters – his included – landed together when the attack occurred. There’s just one problem with that – the helicopter Williams was on wasn’t part of that formation, wasn’t following closely behind, wasn’t involved in the attack. Says who? All the soldiers manning all the helicopters that day.
“No, we never came under direct enemy fire to the aircraft.” SFC Miller, who was on Williams’ Chinook
Texan David Luke was the flight engineer on the Hercules Chinook Brian Williams rode in along with his crew from NBC on March 24, 2003. As they made their own way that day they received news of the attack over the radio – another soldier, SFC Joseph Miller, remembers the news crew putting a microphone in one of the helicopter’s headsets in order to obtain recordings, which they later broadcast. Shortly after, Luke’s unit ran into the same sandstorm, which forced them to change directions in search of a safe place to wait it out. That place ended up being FOB Rams, and upon their arrival they came across the downed Chinook on an airstrip outside Rams. After Luke put the Chinook down, he remembers Williams and his crew heading over to the damaged helicopter to interview the soldiers about their ordeal. The men remember the NBC crew spent ten minutes talking to them before leaving to talk to the soldiers from the armored units who were in place to guard FOB Rams, but formed a security perimeter around the downed helicopter following its forced landing.
When the aforementioned NBC report hit the airways on March 26, 2003, and Williams said his helicopter was part of the formation that was attacked, the soldiers who’d been directly involved were understandably upset. Mike O’Keefe, door gunner on the downed Chinook, says he clearly recalls the false reporting that took place immediately following the attack in 2003. Don Helus, the pilot-in-command who so skillfully landed the damaged Chinook, took his frustrations straight to NBC. In 2003, Helus went to the media giant’s website and used their “contact us” email address. Helus says he “alerted them to the story, and of the false reporting” because it was “way out there from what actually happened.” The network never replied, and when they were asked about the complaint in February of 2015 as the lies hit the fan, they had no comment.
Things escalated from Williams’ initial claims his helicopter was part of the formation that was attacked. In 2003, his account was jumbled, saying he was part of the attacked formation and also saying he heard about the attack on the radio. It was a contradictory piece of journalism. By 2007 his story had become more elaborate. In blog posts written in 2007 and 2008, Williams discussed the attack further: “…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.” And also: “Wayne [General Wayne Downing] and I were riding along as part of an Army mission to deliver bridge components to the Euphrates River, so that the invading forces of the 3rd Infantry could cross the river on their way to Bagdhad. 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.” In the space of four years, Williams had gone from his conflicting statements – neither of which included taking fire – to a public statement he had, indeed, taken fire. And not only had his helicopter taken fire, he’d witnessed a direct hit to the Chinook in front of his – or so he said.
Fast forward to 2013 and Brian Williams’ interview with David Letterman: “We were in some helicopters. What we didn’t know was, we were north of the invasion. We were the northernmost Americans in Iraq. We were going to drop some bridge portions across the Euphrates so the Third Infantry could cross on them. Two of the four helicopters were hit, by ground fire, including the one I was in, RPG and AK-47.” And so it was, in 2013, Brian Williams moved from somewhere in the formation, to witnessing the direct hit immediately in front of him, to riding in a helicopter that took direct hits itself. His story didn’t end there.
Now it’s January 2015. Brian Williams is attending a New York Rangers game along with an Army veteran who happens to be one of those who provided the security perimeter in 2003 for the grounded helicopters. At the game, tribute was given to the sergeant major; the soldier received a standing ovation, and Williams took it upon himself to say a few words. This time, he took his story too far in a setting so public it couldn’t possibly be missed by the many service members watching.
His words were public – and damning: “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. Our traveling NBC news team was rescued, surrounded, and kept alive by an armor mechanized platoon from the U.S. Army 3rd Infantry.”
And so it was, on January 30, 2015, Brian Williams publicly announced, on air, he was in the Chinook that was hit by RPG fire and forced down in the Iraqi desert.
And so it was, on January 30, 2015, Brian Williams publicly lied. And this time, he was caught.
The response was swift: veterans began blowing up social media, knowing full well the news anchor had lied. It took days for Williams to speak up, and when he did, his response left those same veterans cold. This was his supposed apology: “On this broadcast last week in an effort to honor and thank a veteran who protected me and so many others following a ground-fire incident in the desert during the Iraq War, I made a mistake in recalling the events of 12 years ago. It didn’t take long to hear from some brave men and women in the air crews who were also in the desert. I want to apologize: I said I was traveling in an aircraft that was hit by RPG fire. I was instead in a following aircraft. We all landed and spent two harrowing nights in a sandstorm in the desert. This was a bungled attempt by me to thank one special veteran, and by extension: our brave military men and women – Veterans everywhere — those who have served while I did not. I hope they know they have my greatest respect… and also now my apology.”
“It felt like a personal experience that someone else wanted to participate in and didn’t deserve to participate in.” Lance Reynolds, flight engineer in the downed Chinook
Was this an apology? In it Williams backpedals to his old claim of having been “in a following aircraft.” However, the soldiers flying the various Chinooks that day are in agreement the helicopter Williams and his team rode in was about an hour away from the Big Windy Chinooks when they came under attack – and heading in another direction. The only reason Williams ended up landing at FOB Rams was because the sandstorm forced his untouched helicopter to turn around and find a safe spot to land. And although all those present were technically stuck in the desert, they were at FOB Rams, not sitting alone with the helicopters in the desert. It’s true FOB Rams was a small base devoid of many amenities, but it was a base nonetheless, and that’s where Williams spent those days waiting for fuel – after arriving following an uneventful flight.
In another statement, Williams said “I would not have chosen to make this mistake. I don’t know what screwed up in my mind that caused me to conflate one aircraft with another.” Another time he said “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 [helicopters].” For this the temptation to utter “You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.” is nearly overwhelming (“Conflate” means combining or mixing two things into one).
Williams has phrased his “apology” quite a few ways. He “misremembered” events, the claim was part of a “bungled attempt” to honor our nation’s veterans, and he “made a mistake in recalling” events.
One of our nation’s top news anchors has been caught in a 12-year, constantly-growing lie. One has to wonder how many other times he’s told bald-faced lies in the interest of better news stories. We’re all aware the mainstream media riddles their reports with self-serving, ratings-boosting tripe, but what Williams did here could easily be called stolen valor. This is no small thing. This isn’t an “unmitigated disaster,” as USA Today labeled it; a mudslide is a disaster, while deception of this nature is the blackest deceit. Also, the word “lie” should not be featured in quotation marks as it is in numerous headlines, as if the quality of the deceit he’s perpetuated for years is up for debate. His credibility, that backbone of journalism I’ve spoken of before, is irreparably broken.
Brian Williams lied. We all know it; there’s a surfeit of evidence both in print and on video. As a journalist, I’m ashamed, and as a military journalist, I’m nearly unrestrainedly furious. A frog in a pot of water being brought to a gradual boil stays put to the end, when they float in the roiling water, dead. And a nation allowing itself to be lead around by liars is willingly settling into the pot, flipping on the burner, and whistling a merry tune as their fate approaches.
Something must be done, for this is but a symptom of a larger illness. It’s past time the nation left the heat of the water before the bubbling Jacuzzi becomes a burning death trap. What will you do? Are you a frog, or a fighter?
Update: Since the time of my writing this, a few changes have taken place for Brian Williams. After his “apology,” which was understandably not taken well, failed to soothe the anger over his lies and manipulations, Williams announced he, as managing editor, was temporarily removing himself from the anchor’s chair. This gesture was more self-aggrandizing than self-deprecating, making it appear as though Williams himself is The Power That Be at NBC, and it didn’t take long for NBC execs to realize what message had been sent. So NBC followed up by meting out their own brand of justice: a six-month suspension.
It would seem NBC is making an effort to save Williams’ career; perhaps if his face is removed from the anchor’s chair for six months, the American people will latch onto some other drama and forget what happened. If this sounds far-fetched, it really isn’t. The memories of the masses do tend to be disappointingly easy to manipulate and distract, and in this case, that’s an even worse thing than normal.
Why? Evidence of other lies dealt out by Williams in the name of building his journalistic creds has come to light surrounding such events as Katrina and a visit to Israel, among others. Is it wrong he seems to have practiced deception in the form of vast over-exaggerations for the entirety of his career? Yes. Is it shocking? No. The truth of the matter is, this is what the mainstream media does with more frequency than the average viewer seems willing to admit. It’s a sort of willful nescience being carried out by television viewers, a desire to believe the bright lights and glitter are real, the half-truths and outright fallacies cannot possibly be fabrications. After all, some rationalize, what motivation does the media have to lie to us? Quite a bit, actually.
The fears of the people are easily manipulated by what is shown in the news, and the credibility of those delivering it is drastically amped up when it appears they’re risking their own lives – seriously, the rocket passed right under my Blackhawk/blew out the tail of my Chinook/the thug was holding a .38 on me – for the sole purpose of bring you, the viewer, the evening news. It’s past time the American people stopped swallowing what they’re being spoon-fed and started taking what they view in the news with not just a grain but an entire bucket of salt. Because the deceptions are real; there really are monsters in the closet, and, yes, they have every reason in the world to influence your emotions. After all, when hope is failing and happiness is hard to come by, the majority of people are happiest believing a lie.
Disclaimer: The content in this article is the opinion of the writer and does not necessarily reflect the policies or opinions of US Patriot Tactical.
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