Following NBC News anchor Brian Williams’ revelation that he had lied about being on a helicopter that was shot down by RPG fire during the invasion of Iraq in 2003, his credibility as a journalist has been called into question, and there is now speculation regarding his reporting during Hurricane Katrina.
The New Orleans Advocate reported that once Williams admitted to lying about his Iraq story, there was an “online feeding frenzy,” which turned the focus to his coverage of Hurricane Katrina.
In 2006, during an interview with Michael Eisner, Williams discussed the time he spent on the ground, covering Hurricane Katrina. He claimed that he had watched a man “float by face down” from his hotel room window in the French Quarter:
“When you look out of your hotel window in the French Quarter and watch a man float by face down, when you see bodies that you last saw in Banda Aceh, Indonesia, and swore to yourself that you would never see in your country.”
However, the New Orleans Advocate noted that the French Quarter is the “original high ground of New Orleans,” and “was not impacted by the floodwaters that overwhelmed the vast majority of the city.”
During a 2014 interview with Tom Brokaw, Williams claimed that while he was covering Hurricane Katrina, he “accidentally ingested some of the floodwater” and “became very sick with dysentery.”
Dr. Brobson Lutz, a former city health director who was on the street manning an EMS trailer in the French Quarter, told the New Orleans Advocate that the area was “never wet” and that as for dysentery, he didn’t recall a “single, solitary case of gastroenteritis during Katrina or in the whole month afterward.”
While Williams has yet to comment on the accusations related to Hurricane Katrina, he did issue a public apology on Wednesday for claiming he was on a helicopter that was shot down by RPG fire during the invasion of Iraq in 2003.
In his apology, William claimed that while he wasn’t on the Chinook that was hit, he was on one of the helicopters in the same formation. However, crewmembers on board the helicopter that was grounded by RPG fire claim Williams arrived at the scene an hour after the helicopter made its emergency landing, and then left shortly after, according to a report from Stars and Stripes.
In his 2003 report of the incident, Williams said, “On the ground we learned the Chinook ahead of us was almost blown out of the sky” by a rocket-propelled grenade (RPG), which “punched cleanly through the skin of the ship,” but did not explode.
In 2008, Williams retold the story in a blog post, stating once again that the Chinook helicopter flying in front of his “took an RPG to the rear rotor, as all four of our low-flying Chinooks took fire.”
However, Williams’ story changed in 2013 when he gave an account of the incident on an episode of Late Night with David Letterman. “Two of our four helicopters were hit by ground fire, including the one I was in,” Williams said.
Although Williams’ 2013 version of the story was false, he did not correct it, and went on to repeat the same lie during a broadcast of NBC Nightly News on Friday, claiming that the helicopter he was flying in was “forced down after being hit by an RPG.”
On Saturday, Lance Reynolds, one of the soldiers on board the Chinook helicopter that was hit, addressed Williams in a Facebook comment, saying that while he didn’t remember Williams being on the helicopter, he did remember the NBC team leaving the scene and flying to Kuwait to report their “war story” for the Nightly News, all while the crew from the grounded flight was “stuck in Iraq trying to repair the aircraft.”
Williams replied to the comment, saying that Reynolds, along with several others who had called Williams out on the inaccurate report, were right, and that he “felt terrible about making this mistake.” Williams wrote that he “was in fact on the Chinook behind the bird that took the RPG in the tail housing just above the ramp.”
On Wednesday, Williams issued a public apology on the Nightly News, claiming that he had made a mistake.
“I made a mistake in recalling the events of 12 years ago and it did not take long to hear from some of the brave men and women in the air crew who were also in that desert,” said Williams. “I want to apologize, I said I wasn’t traveling in an aircraft that was hit by RPG fire. I was instead in the following aircraft. We all landed after the ground fire.”
While Williams claimed that he was riding in the helicopter “following” the Chinook that was hit by RPG fire, he made it sound as if his helicopter landed shortly after.
In contrast, those who were actually on board the 159th Aviation Regiment’s Chinook that was hit told Stars and Stripes that Williams was “nowhere near that aircraft or two other Chinooks flying in the formation that took fire.” Instead, the crewmembers claimed Williams “arrived in the area about an hour later on another helicopter after the other three had made an emergency landing.”
Stars and Stripes reported that Williams and his NBC news team only stayed on the scene for “about 10 minutes,” before they left “to see the Army armored units that had been guarding the nearby Forward Operating Base Rams.”
On Thursday, Ben Swann addressed the story on RT America’s newscast, and he pointed out that while the crew members’ stories have not been verified, if they do turn out to be true, it will mean that not only was Williams’ story untrue, “the 2003 story that aired on NBC News is untrue as well.”
Swann was joined by RT Producer Tyrel Ventura to discuss the potential impact of the crewmembers’ claims being true and NBC News providing a false report. Watch the full video below:
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