NBC’s most trusted anchor, Brian Williams, has come under fire lately after embellishing a story about his helicopter being shot down in Iraq in 2003. Williams was in Iraq in 2003 for the initial invasion, reporting from the front lines, as any diligent and brave journalist would do. In his story, he recants being a part of a team carrying bridge parts in support of US forces when his chopper was fired upon, from both RPG and AK-47 rounds.
The only problem is none of this actually happened, to Williams at least. His chopper was downed temporarily by a sandstorm, and the chopper that was shot at was miles ahead of them. Williams did not actually even see this event occur. In his initial report in 2003, Williams tells the story exactly as it occurred. However, he greatly embellished his story throughout the years. On David Letterman’s show in 2013, he told the story as if his chopper had been the one that was fired upon.
He told this same story on Alec Baldwin’s podcast the same year. It wasn’t until after his latest re-hashing of the story at a Rangers game when the truth came to light.
Several of the veterans who were actually in the chopper that was shot at have been boiling with frustration for years. Obviously, these men knew that Brian Williams was not with them at the time of the incident, and to continuously hear this man add on to his fictional account pushed them past the point of passive silence. This is a mild, yet clear cut case of stolen valor.
Stolen Valor has become an issue in this country amongst veterans. When anyone claims to be of a rank, job title, branch of service, or a veteran of a war they were not a part of, they are stealing valor. Although Williams took a more passive route to stealing the valor of these men, claiming to have been in combat situations in which he had no part is a serious offense to the veteran community. Veterans who have been subjected to combat situations are forever changed by them. These experiences are harrowing, unfathomable, and very personal to veterans. Williams used his celebrity to steal their spotlight, and then he continued to embellish it to glorify himself. He has earned himself a black mark from the veteran community, and that will be hard to live down.
As for his credibility, who can say what’s real or not anymore? It would be far easier to excuse a random celebrity for lying to the public. After all, they do it all the time. However, a journalist has their credibility alone to stand on, and Brian Williams has lost his. Even if this was the only story he’d dramatized to boost his status, no one can ever take him for his word again.
In light of this recent controversy, several other harrowing stories told by Williams are now under scrutiny. For example, many believe he may have exaggerated his account of witnessing “floating bodies” drift past his hotel window in the French Quarter. No one can really blame the public for their reaction in this case. Long story short, Brian Williams has to retire. While it’s painful to see him go, he broke the people’s trust. Even if Williams returns to television, his reputation as America’s most trusted anchor will forever be tarnished.
Contact CU Independent Staff Writer Drew Chowbay at firstname.lastname@example.org.