Late Saturday afternoon, Brian Williams announced that he was taking a few days off to “adequately deal” with the fallout of his untrue story about his helicopter coming under fire in Iraq in 2003. Of course, that didn’t exactly put a stop to the public criticism of the NBC Nightly News star. On Sunday morning, two pilots who traveled with Williams in Iraq appeared on CNN to re-confirm that the anchor did not “look down the tube of an RPG,” as he dramatically put it in a 2007 telling of the tale.
Chief Allan Kelly, who discussed the incident with the New York Times last week, was the pilot of the chopper that transported Williams and his crew. Once again, Kelly said that while a fleet of aircraft traveling 15 or 30 minutes ahead of him was attacked by rocket-propelled grenades, his was not. When CNN’s Brian Stelter asked if Williams could have somehow been under the impression that they were being fired on, Kelly said:
“Anything is possible. They’re sitting in the back. I don’t remember if they were hooked up on headsets and could hear what was going on,” Kelly responded. “We had a lot of stuff going on on the radios. We had a couple aircraft that were calling in for help, they were being shot down, Big Windy being one of them. So Mr. Williams in the back, he’s free to look out the windows back there. He wouldn’t see much. If he was on headset and heard radio calls over guard, it’s possible he could have thought that, I suppose.”
Meanwhile, the pilot of the helicopter that did get hit, Don Helus, told Stelter that Williams was likely too far away to have even witnessed the attack. “The fact is, Mr. Williams wasn’t in or near our aircraft at the time,” he said. “It saddens me that you have so many combat journalists out there who are in that situation, seeing those things happen, and more than likely they don’t tell the story like that, with that embellishment.”
Helus (who, like Kelly, first told his story last week) also said he emailed NBC to complain about Williams’s false claims after he learned about them in April 2003. He never heard back. As the network’s new “truth squad” begins its investigation of the scandal, it might want to find out what happened to Kelly’s note.