A few days later, in an apologetic retraction, Williams reported, "I said I was traveling in an aircraft that was hit by RPG fire. I was instead in a following aircraft. We landed after the ground fire incident and spent 2 harrowing nights in a sandstorm in the Iraq desert."
Now, following the public reaction to his false claim, Williams has announced that he will remove himself from his NBC news duties for a few days: “In the midst of a career spent covering and consuming news, it has become painfully apparent to me that I am presently too much a part of the news, due to my actions,” read Williams’ statement. “As managing editor of NBC Nightly News, I have decided to take myself off my daily broadcast for the next several days.”
In reporting the incident from 2003, Williams said, “I made a mistake in recalling the events.” He termed this inaccuracy “a bungled attempt.” Social Media exploded with additional Williams’ recollections using the hashtag #BrianWilliamsMisremembers.
Inaccuracies and lapses of memories such of these were first studied by Emmett Lee Dickinson in the mid- to late-1800s. He termed this condition “unconscious coupling,” the blending of two events in one’s memory into a single recollection, as if the person had lived through the episode himself.
Dickinson noticed this condition with his life-long friend Abraham Lincoln. Months after Lincoln heard details about the Battle of Hampton Roads between the ironclads the Monitor and the Merrimack, he began to report to friends that he had actually been aboard the USS Monitor. Then, when Lincoln was composing the Gettysburg Address, Dickinson had to correct the opening line of the speech where Lincoln had misremembered, “Four score and seven years ago our fathers and I brought forth on this continent a new nation….” Dickinson was able to get Lincoln to correct the misstatement.
Dickinson wrote a now-classic self-help book about “Unconscious Coupling,” a guide to improving one's memory. The book is still in print, and ironically, the latest edition includes a forward by Brian Williams. Perhaps during his sabbatical, Williams will get a chance to re-read the book and then put Dickinson’s “never-fail system” into practice!
Below: Emmett Lee Dickinson's poem "Departed – of my Judgment" seemed to foretell the scandal of Brian Williams' foggy memory:
Departed – of my Judgment –
On Nightly – Evening News –
Great Clouds – like Covers – fogging
Memory – pushing on –
The Flash – Engendered – Called forth –
The Commentary – begun –
Then Worlds – of Audiences – dispersed –
And left the Fool – alone –
Below: Emmett Lee Dickinson's poem inspired third cousin Emily to write her poem "Departed – to the Judgment."
Departed – to the Judgment –
A Mighty – Afternoon –
Great Clouds – like Ushers – leaning –
Creation – looking on –
The Flesh – Surrendered – Cancelled –
The Bodiless – begun –
Two Worlds – like Audiences – disperse –
And leave the Soul – alone –