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Brian Williams not alone in public retractions

Brian Williams of NBC News. AFP/Getty Images

NBC News anchor Brian Williams is eating his words this week after recanting a claim that he was in a helicopter shot down during the invasion of Iraq in 2003.

Williams has told the story of being shot down in a Chinook helicopter by RPG and AK-47 fire on at least two occasions, including on the Late Show with David Letterman.

However, in an article published Wednesday by Stars and Stripes, members of the 159th Aviation Regiment are quoted as saying Williams was nowhere near the aircraft that took fire and instead arrived on the scene in a different aircraft about an hour later.

Faced with the Stars and Stripes report, Williams recanted his story on the NBC Nightly News, saying he “made a mistake in recalling the events.”


Williams is hardly the first person forced to make a public retraction after new evidence came to light. Here’s a round-up of a few more dramatic stories that turned out to be less-than-true.


What she claimed: On the campaign trail in March 2008, Clinton said she came under sniper fire after landing in Tuzla, Bosnia, during a 1996 trip when she was the first lady.

What really happened: Clinton’s characterization of the event came under scrutiny from several news organizations, and a video surfaced that showed her being greeted warmly after getting off the plane. A week later she acknowledged her description had been incorrect, saying, “so I made a mistake. That happens. It shows I’m human, which for some people is a revelation.”


Manti Te’oAP

What he claimed: Te’o was a devastating force on Notre Dame’s defense in 2012. But the brawny linebacker also revealed a more emotional side, welling up tear ducts across the country with his tale of a long-distance girlfriend, Lennay Kekua, who died in a car accident on Sept. 11 of that year.

What really happened: Te’o’s girlfriend didn’t die -- because she never existed. A report by Deadspin exhaustively chronicled the search for evidence of Te’o’s girlfriend, ultimately concluding “There was no Lennay Kekua.”


Things got even stranger after the Deadspin report. Te’o, who previously said he had met Kekua in person, claimed to be the victim of a social media hoax. A man named Roniah Tuiasosopo, who had pretended to be Kekua’s cousin, admitted to fabricating the story as a way to get closer to Te’o.


What they said: The well-respected public radio show ran a segment from Mike Daisey’s monologue, “The Agony and the Ecstasy of Steve Jobs,” in January 2012. The monologue, about Daisey’s visit to Apple factories in China, was filled with scathing critiques of the working conditions there, including descriptions of underage workers and a man with a mangled hand.

What really happened: “This American Life” host and executive producer Ira Glass retracted the episode in March of that year after finding “significant fabrications” in Daisey’s story. A review showed many of Daisey’s claims to be false, and Glass dedicated another episode of This American Life to exposing the inaccuracies. A confronted Daisey acknowledged presenting incorrect facts, but maintained his overall message was true.

Mike Daisey. AP


What he said: Frey’s memoir, “A Million Little Pieces,” tells the story of his life as an alcoholic, drug-addicted criminal who ultimately overcomes his vices.

Frey’s graphic, personal descriptions of his struggle struck a chord with readers, and the book became a New York Times bestseller. Talk show maven Oprah Winfrey had Frey on her show in 2006, and declared his book a harrowing account that was “like nothing you’ve ever read before.”


What really happened: Frey’s book turned out to be less a memoir and more a work of fiction. A six-week investigation by The Smoking Gun debunked much of Frey’s book, calling sections “wholly fabricated or wildly embellished.”

When you cross Oprah, beware. Following the release of the report, Winfrey brought Frey -- along with his publisher -- back on her show to explain the inaccuracies to her viewers.

Sources: The Washington Post, Stars and Stripes, Reuters, This American Life, The Smoking Gun.