How Brian Williams Almost “Chinookered” Us

 

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Integrity is everything.  If you can fake integrity, you’ve really got it made.

 

-- Groucho Marx

 

For a while there it looked like the man with the oh-so-comforting-and-comfortable face, Brian Williams, was about to inherit the Walter Cronkite mantle as the “most trusted man in the United States.” He is the major network news anchor with the longest tenure now, and his NBC Nightly News program is the most watched of the big three.  He sits right at the cornerstone of the U.S. government-corporation-media establishment.  His is the first name and the first face that appears on the Council of Foreign Relations “About CFR” (“Trust us.”) web site.  You can see him lending his credibility to the CFR at the 2:07 and 2:41 marks of their video.  (I have saved the web page.  Any bets that the name and face won’t be there this time next year?)

 

Without doubt his stature and acclaim reached a high water mark in the country on the night of Thursday January 29 when he was hailed at the New York Rangers game against the Montreal Canadiens along with the man who helped him “return to his wife and family” after the Chinook helicopter in which Williams was riding had to make a forced landing after taking crippling enemy fire.  He and his Army rescuer basked in the approval from the standing ovation they received from the fans.  Williams still looked enormously pleased with himself as he reported what had happened on his NBC Evening News program the next night. 

 

Tom Brokaw was in the anchor chair when the episode happened in March of 2003 and at that time Williams reported the episode somewhat differently.  Then it was the Chinook ahead of them that had taken fire.  The helicopter in which Williams was riding had come along some time later and had been trapped for a while on the ground in a sand storm.  A decade later at the latest, in March of 2013, the story had mutated into the one that the Rangers public address announcer told to the adoring crowd. Then Williams told it with a straight face—in his own words—to the equally approving David Letterman on the latter’s show before a national audience.

 

But Williams had gone too far with his January 30 NBC News story on himself at the Rangers game.  Crew members who were on the Chinook with him knew that they had not taken fire and they prompted the military newspaper Stars and Stripes to look into it.  That newspaper quickly determined that Williams’ story of having been forced to land on account of enemy-caused damage to the helicopter was not true.  On February 4, on his Nightly News program the grossly overpaid anchor was forced to make an apology.  He did not apologize for having lied, though.  In a statement that would have done Bill Clinton proud, he said that he “made a mistake in recalling the events of 12 years ago.”  On the Nightly News Facebook page he said, “I think the constant viewing of the video showing us inspecting the impact area—and the fog of memory over 12 years—made me conflate the two, and I apologize.”

 

His problem—and NBC’s problem and the CFR’s problem and a lot of other people’s problem—is that nobody believes this faulty memory excuse, and why should they?  Would you ever confuse the automobile accident that you came upon some time after its occurrence with the one you experienced yourself, even if it was a dozen years—or a half a century—later?  He has now compounded his lie by lying about how he came to tell it.  Worse than that, NBC as a news organization has now joined in the lying.  When Williams was on the Letterman show or talking to the Knicks’ PA system man, he was ostensibly on his own, a mere newsreader straying off the reservation.  But here’s how it worked when the late Sandy Socolow was Walter Cronkite’s handler at CBS as The Washington Post tells us, and it’s certainly little different at NBC today, “Mr. Socolow’s title in the 1960s and early 1970s was producer, an industry term that did not fully convey his influence as the man who vetted nearly everything written and uttered by the host.”

 

The attitude that NBC has exhibited is well characterized by something H.L. Mencken wrote in his essay, “On Being an American”:

 

[Great as it is, the average American’s] docility and pusillanimity may be overestimated and sometimes I think they are overestimated by his present masters.  They assume that there is absolutely no limit to his capacity for being put on and knocked about—that he will submit to any invasion of his freedom and dignity, however outrageous, so long as it is depicted in melodious terms.  He permitted the late war to be “sold” to him by the methods of the methods of the grind-shop auctioneer…

 

The “late war” that Mencken was talking about was World War I, and that brings us to what Williams should really apologize to us for if he had one genuine and decent bone in his body.  His was one of the most melodious of the network voices that gave us the hard sell for invading Iraq for completely trumped-up reasons.  The fact that NBC was owned by one of the biggest military contractors, General Electric, might have something to do with his employer’s enthusiasm for going into the war, but all the other major news organs across the political spectrum share NBC’s guilt.  One must wonder if the Roman Catholic Williams has at least gone to confession over his latest lies and the much bigger and more consequential lies in which he participated earlier.

 

As a reminder of how Brian Williams’ and his media colleagues’ hands are bathed in blood, we might go back to a satire we wrote about one of the more tragic episodes of the war for American servicemen back in November of 2003.  In contrast to Williams’ Chinook and the one far in front of him, this one when it went down cost a lot of lives. 

 

I might remind readers that my web site began as a column for the “underground” newspaper of Atlanta, The Great Speckled Bird, which was most active as a protest organ during the Vietnam War.  I would email my articles and poems to him and the editor, Tom Sparks, would format them and put them up.  I took my part of it over only when Tom became too ill to continue with The Great Speckled Bird.  I tried to write my satire (now with links that were never part of the Martin-Sparks collaboration) in the form of a typical mainstream news article. 

 

Cause of Chinook Crash Still Undetermined

 

         The Great Speckled Bird has learned that U.S. government authorities are beginning to doubt that the Chinook helicopter that crashed on November 2 near Fallujah in Iraq, killing 16 and injuring 26, was brought down by an enemy missile. The FBI, which has taken over the investigation of the crash, has sent a team of investigators to the area, They have commandeered a Fallujah warehouse that was formerly a repair facility for the fleet of limousines that transported Saddam Hussein, his two late sons, and their numerous wives and mistresses. They are using it as a venue for the reassembly of the Chinook, piece by piece. When the work is complete, expected to be within a few months, a definitive report on the cause of the crash will be released.

 

         Although the Chinook crashed on land and not over water like TWA 800—the Boeing 747 whose fuel tank spontaneously blew up off the coast of Long Island on the evening of July 17, 1996—and there was little scattering of the wreckage, recovery of all the parts, according to sources, will probably be a slow process. Iraqi civilians reached the site before a U.S. Army rescue team did and carried off as war trophies anything that could be lifted by hand and carried on the back of a pickup truck. The FBI is offering a reward of $250 per pound, no questions asked, for any parts of the Chinook—the workhorse of the U.S. Army—that may be brought to them.

 

         "Of the $87 billion we have been given to play with in the coming year, this expenditure, though open ended, is likely to amount to little more than budget dust and should be well worth it," said one official, using a Pentagon expression usually applied to items of less than $100,000.

 

Unreliable Initial Reports

 

         Asked why initial reports indicated that the Chinook was probably downed by a shoulder-fired missile, an FBI source noted a number of high-profile cases in which it has been involved where the initial reports proved to be in error. In the case of the bombing of the Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City on April 19, 1995, by Timothy McVeigh, there were initial reports of several unexploded bombs being found in the building, in addition to the massive fuel-oil-fertilizer bomb that was in the Ryder Truck that McVeigh parked in the street in front of the building. There were also reports that McVeigh was with an accomplice when he rented the truck and with other accomplices when he was seen in the truck on the day of the bombing. All these reports were determined by the FBI to be in error.

 

         In the case of the suicide of Deputy White House Counsel Vincent Foster on July 20, 1993, it was initially reported that the Foster family was certain that he had received no medical treatment for his depression, and this proved not to be the case. There were also mistaken initial reports that the nondescript revolver found in Foster’s hand was part of a matched set and a handwritten list of local psychiatrists was found in his office and had only two names on it. Actually, the list had three names on it and the paper with the names was found by U.S. Park Police when they searched his car in Fort Marcy Park.

 

         In a lesser-known case in which the FBI became involved, that of the murder of three Starbucks employees in the Georgetown section of Washington, DC, on the evening of July 6, 1997, one of whom was a former Clinton White House intern and lesbian political activist, there were initial reports of a witness attempting to gain entrance after closing time and being turned away from the locked door by the employees. Police and the FBI finally concluded that the lone killer, using two guns in a botched robbery, had gained admittance to the store before the front door was locked for the night.

 

         Even the rifle that Lee Harvey Oswald used to kill President John F. Kennedy was initially reported by a gun expert who examined it to be a German Mauser instead of Oswald’s mail-order Italian-made Mannlicher-Carcano, and Kennedy was said to have been turned around looking in the direction of the Texas Schoolbook Depository when the first bullet struck him in the throat. We would later learn that the small hole in Kennedy’s throat was really an exit wound, caused by the same bullet that made a hole some six inches down from the collar of his suit jacket and then went through John Connally’s rib, lung, and wrist and lodged briefly in his thigh.

 

Mistaken Witnesses

 

         One FBI source was particularly contemptuous of reports of "eyewitnesses" purporting to have seen one or two missiles streaking up from a date palm grove toward the helicopter.

 

         "Do you know how many people thought they saw a missile going up toward TWA 800?" he asked rhetorically. "There must have been several hundred," he said, "and these were all Americans, not just Iraqis with an axe to grind."

 

         He went on to explain that the Iraqis in the Fallujah area were jubilant over the crash of the helicopter and were all too eager to believe that "resistance fighters" had the ability to bring it down.

 

         "We have been on the case for a week now," said the official, "and we are yet to find an Iraqi who says he saw a missile and will also tell us his full name, address, and place of work."

 

         The official, alluding as well to the aforementioned Oklahoma City bombing case, said that in seemingly clear-cut examples, eyewitnesses, especially when they are mere citizens without the expertise of the FBI, are often wrong.

 

         Citing another example, he said that every single person who saw Vince Foster’s light gray Honda at Fort Marcy Park where his body was found described it as "brown" or "reddish-brown," and not a one of the two dozen people at the park who saw the body noted the half-dollar sized exit wound in the crown of Foster’s head later discovered in the autopsy.

 

         One emergency worker even thought he saw a bullet hole in Foster’s neck and an automatic pistol in Foster’s hand instead of a revolver. He later admitted that he might have been wrong after extensive re-interviews by FBI agents.

 

         The most famous case of mistaken witnesses that the FBI has exposed with its crack investigations, of course, was in the assassination of President Kennedy. So sure were most of the people in Dealey Plaza that the shots had come from the grassy knoll to the right and front of the motorcade that many of them ran up the hill in an attempt to catch the killer.

 

FBI Jurisdiction

 

         Asked why the FBI was conducting the investigation instead of the Army, which lost the helicopter and the personnel in the crash, the FBI source responded that the government "wanted to be certain that the investigation produced the right outcome," and there is no better investigative body for that purpose than the FBI.

 

         "It’s really no different than the investigation of the September 11, 2001, crash into the Pentagon," he said. There the victims were also military, but the FBI kept military investigators out of the picture.

 

         He also mentioned the investigation of the bombing of the Murrah Building, from which uncooperative Oklahoma City police officers like Terrance Yeakey (who later committed suicide in despondency) where totally excluded, and TWA 800, which normally would have been the responsibility of the National Transportation Safety Board. In that case, the FBI re-assembled the entire airplane in a hangar in order to come up with its spontaneous-explosion conclusion.

 

         The FBI also found it necessary to get into the case of the botched-robbery murders at the Washington, DC, Starbucks, even though there were apparently no federal laws violated because, "with the District police in charge, this high-profile case was apparently not going to be brought to closure." Similarly, ostensibly no federal laws were violated in the murder of rock legend John Lennon, but the FBI handled that investigation, as well.

 

         "The public is not generally aware of the extent of the FBI’s international responsibilities," added a senior Defense Department official. "The FBI is deeply involved in intelligence gathering on a continuous basis in Iraq," he said, "and they are to be credited with our great successes up to this point in the guerilla war," he said.

 

         FBI international operations were supposedly initiated on a large scale for the first time in the Clinton administration and have expanded in the George W. Bush administration. The Great Speckled Bird has learned, however, that the FBI has been engaged in international intelligence gathering in competition with the Central Intelligence Agency for quite a long time, even in the absence of a legislative mandate. After the failure of other organizations, the FBI has also been recently given the task of finding Saddam Hussein’s missing weapons of mass destruction.

 

         As for the likely cause of the Chinook crash, the FBI source said that they were examining all possibilities. Three, in particular, were mentioned, static electricity in the fuel tank as with TWA 800, a pin falling out of a grenade carried by one of the soldiers, or a suicidal soldier who may have intentionally blown the helicopter up.

 

                   David Martin

     November 11, 2003

 

In reviewing this litany of outrages, one can see that there is more truth than ever to Mencken’s observation about our rulers that, “They assume that there is absolutely no limit to [our] capacity for being put on and knocked about.”  We might also note that Williams was NBC’s chief White House correspondent during a good part of the Clinton years and, as such, no doubt did quite a bit more reporting and covering-up for which he should issue an apology to the American people and make a confession to his priest.

 

David Martin

February 5, 2015

 

See also “Clinton and Cronkite: Odd Couple?”

 

 

 

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