Celebrities Visit "Late Show With David Letterman" - January 8, 2013

The spray-tanned, blow-dried face of NBC News is in the spotlight. But one he’d prefer to be out of. It seems that for a decade he’s been flogging a story that a helicopter he was commuting on in Iraq in 2003 was shot down.

Williams made the claim while presenting NBC coverage of the tribute to the retired command sergeant major at the Rangers game and the fans giving the soldier a standing ovation.

“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,” Williams said on the broadcast. “Our traveling NBC News team was rescued, surrounded and kept alive by an armor mechanized platoon from the U.S. Army 3rd Infantry.”

This is a story eerily reminiscent of Hillary Clinton’s near death experience with snipers in Bosnia:

During an introduction to a foreign policy speech on Iraq on March 17, 2008, Sen. Hillary Clinton reminisced about her days as first lady and a trip to Tuzla, Bosnia, she made in March 1996.

“I remember landing under sniper fire. There was supposed to be some kind of a greeting ceremony at the airport, but instead we just ran with our heads down to get into the vehicles to get to our base.”

But that’s not what happened, as demonstrated by CBS News video that shows Clinton arriving on the tarmac under no visible duress, and greeting a child who offers her a copy of a poem.

Apparently, Williams and his entourage were on another flight of helicopters, a significant distance behind the aircraft that was hit. They did land in the vicinity of the damaged helicopter but did so because of a sandstorm.

As he recounted to David Letterman in 2013:

“Two of our four helicopters were hit by ground fire, including the one I was in. RPG and AK47” he said.

“No kidding?” Letterman replied.

“We were only at 100 feet doing 100-forward knots,” he said. “We landed very quickly and hard and we put down and we were stuck, four birds in the middle of the desert and we were north out ahead of the other Americans.”

“We got hit, we sat down, everyone was OK,” he said. “Our captain took a purple heart injury to his ear in the cockpit, but we were alone. They started distributing weapons and we heard a noise. It was Bradley fighting vehicles and Abrams tanks coming. They happened to spot us. This was the invasion. The U.S invasion. They surrounded us for three days during the sandstorm that was so big that is suspended the war effort. It was called ‘Orange Crush.’ And they got us out of there alive.”

“I have to treat you now with renewed respect,” Letterman told Williams. “That’s a tremendous story.”

The mind boggles. That a man who has risen to the top of his profession would need to imitate Baron von Munchausen and claim experiences that were so blatantly false defies explanation… or rather any explanation that doesn’t include the word “sociopath.” That he would use the occasion of a senior non-commissioned officer’s retirement to spin the web of deceit once again is tawdry beyond words.

His excuse is priceless:

“I would not have chosen to make this mistake,” Williams said. “I don’t know what screwed up in my mind that caused me to conflate one aircraft with another.”

Have you ever been shot at? For real? Have you ever been in an aircraft that had to set down with an actual in-flight emergency? These are not things you “conflate” with anything else.

What will happen to Williams. Nothing. It is pretty obvious that NBC News knew of this lie from Day One. Williams wasn’t traveling alone, it is hard to believe that all the people with him suffered from the same mental disorder. But it, like the Dan Rather and the fake documents incident points to the danger of star power harnessed to the amoral power of the news media.