One of the US’ most prominent TV anchors, Brian Williams, faced calls for his resignation on Friday for embellishing an Iraq war story from 2003.
Williams, 55, who reportedly earns US$10 million a year and is watched by an estimated 9 million US residents per episode, admitted that a story he had often repeated on air about coming under attack during a helicopter rise was not true.
“I made a mistake in recalling the events of 12 years ago,” Williams said in an apology broadcast live on Wednesday last week during the NBC Nightly News program that he hosts each evening. “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.”
He apologized to colleagues again on Friday morning, according to a leaked memo purportedly from NBC News president Deborah Turness.
The memo said that NBC has appointed a team to investigate the facts and “help us make sense of all that has transpired.”
On Facebook, Williams said that he had “conflated” the two events, which happened while he was covering the US invasion of Iraq.
A hugely respected journalist in the US, he has anchored NBC Nightly News since 2004.
A former chief White House correspondent, Williams was celebrated for his coverage of Hurricane Katrina in 2005 and has collected more than two dozen industry awards.
The false tale dates back at least to an interview with US chat show king David Letterman in 2013.
At the time of the incident in 2003, Williams said that it was the Chinook ahead that was “almost blown out of the sky.”
He repeated the story on television as recently as Jan. 30, in an elaborate tribute to a retired soldier who helped provide ground security for the grounded aircraft and crew.
However, crew members of the Chinook helicopter and Williams’ aircraft told Stars and Stripes, a US publication that covers the armed forces, that the anchor had been nowhere near the helicopter that was fired upon or other Chinooks in its formation.
He instead arrived later in a separate helicopter, which landed due to an oncoming sandstorm.
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