NBC News anchor Brian Williams has backed out of a scheduled guest appearance on The Late Show With David Letterman this Thursday, in an apparent effort to avoid talking about his allegedly fabricated story about coming under rocket fire while riding in a military helicopter in Iraq.
The last time Williams appeared on the Letterman show, he told the exact story that he has repeated on numerous occasions since 2003, when the incident allegedly took place. By dropping out of his guest spot, he avoids subjecting himself to questioning from the sometimes cantankerous talk show host, who is scheduled to retire on May 20, after more than 30 years on the air.
On his appearance with Letterman in 2013, Brian Williams told the story in the context of showing how he had not been a “terribly good” war correspondent, and how he experienced a “holy crap” moment when the helicopter carrying him was hit with rocket-propelled grenade and forced to make an emergency landing.
“Two of our four helicopters were hit by ground fire including the one I was in— RPG and AK-47,” Williams told Letterman at the time, eliciting astonishment from the veteran broadcaster.
Williams more recently repeated his oft-told tale on Friday, January 30, during an NBC broadcast of a New York Rangers hockey game. But in an interview with the military newspaper Stars and Stripes a few days later, Williams said that he had “misremembered” the incident, saying, “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.”
Soldiers from the 159th Aviation Regiment came forward to say that Williams was not on the helicopter that he described in the story, or either of the other two Chinook helicopters in the fleet that came under fire. In fact, the soldiers said, Williams did not show up until an hour later, on an entirely separate helicopter.
During the January 30 broadcast, as he had when telling the story to David Letterman in 2013, Williams appeared to recall the incident in great detail.
“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.
“Our traveling NBC News team was rescued, surrounded and kept alive by an armor mechanized platoon from the U.S. Army 3rd Infantry.”
On his 2013 Letterman appearance, the talk show host and comic turned sincere when telling Brian Williams of the deep respect he had earned, after Williams related what turned out to be the false Iraq story.