Justin Balding, an NBC producer who was part of the team that accompanied Brian Williams on his March 2003 Iraq reporting mission, “never told NBC colleagues their chopper was hit by RPGs,” a source familiar with the operations of NBC News tells Breitbart News.
The source described Balding as “one of NBC’s most trusted producers.”
Several media outlets have reported that in her 2004 book, Letters Home: From 9/11 to Operation Iraqi Freedom: A Military Mom Shares Her Family’s Story of Patriotism, Courage and Love, author Mary Ward wrote that Balding told her the helicopter in which he and Williams were riding in on that mission had been hit by RPG fire and forced to land. The conversation, Ward wrote, happened at the August 2003 homecoming of her son, a soldier who had served in Iraq. The book seemed to put Balding, an Emmy Award winner still employed by NBC, under a cloud.
On Wednesday, Williams admitted on the NBC Nightly News that his claim that the helicopter he was riding in during that March 2003 mission had been hit by RPG fire and forced to land was untrue.
Network officials were asked whether NBC could confirm the version in Ward’s book: that Balding told her in August 2003 the same version of the helicopter story that Williams first told publicly in a March 2013 appearance on David Letterman–that the helicopter had been hit by RPG fire. But NBC News would only confirm that Balding is still an employee.
The company’s failure to deny the assertions about Balding in Ward’s book has caused speculation that executives at NBC may have decided to accept significant collateral damage to other NBC News employees as the price they will have to pay for their attempts to salvage Williams’s career and anchor position.
Ward’s book contained these two sentences, upon which the subsequent stories are based, on page 125:
Justin told us the helicopter that he was in with anchorman Brian Williams and General Wayne Downing (retired) was shot at by Iraqis; it was an unforeseen and frightening event. The Chinook they were flying in took a rocket propelled grenade (RPG) and an AK-47 in the cockpit requiring them to land unexpectedly.
Balding himself has offered no public comments on Ward’s assertions.
According to a post made on January 30 at Ward’s Facebook page, her son, Sean Ward, served in Iraq under the command of Tom Terpak, the veteran whose appearance with Williams at a New York Rangers game, subsequently broadcast on the January 30 edition of the NBC Nightly News, started the media firestorm around the claims made by Williams about the events surrounding his reporting in Iraq 12 years ago in March 2003.
Ward’s husband, also a veteran, suffers from ALS, and she now devotes her life to his care. She and her husband are also members of Veterans With ALS, a Facebook group that shares information about ALS with veterans who have the disease and their families.
Ward’s book obtained national attention in 2005, when Williams helped her secure an interview that was broadcast on the May 8, 2005 Mother’s Day edition of the NBC Nightly News. On that broadcast, which took place on a Sunday, anchor John Seigenthaler interviewed Ward, who read excerpts from her book in a nearly-three minute segment.
In the more than nine years since that appearance, Ms. Ward’s book has attracted little subsequent attention. That all changed when the Williams controversy exploded on Wednesday. On Thursday, a conservative researcher sent out a tweet linking to the relevant passage in Ward’s book, and several media outlets have reported the story. None, to date, have reported that they contacted Ward to confirm her recollection.
On Saturday and Sunday, Breitbart News sent several email, Facebook, and Twitter messages to Ward asking her for clarification, but she has not yet responded.
In a Facebook posting on Thursday, Ms. Ward wrote glowingly of Williams: (bold emphasis added)
I will always love this man for the relief he gave me as a mother watching her son at war. If you’ve never watched a war nearly 24/7 with your son right there in the middle of it all, well, you can’t possibly know how heart wrenching it can be. We hadn’t heard from Sean for quite some time because communication was shut down for weeks before the invasion.
A letter came in the mail from Sean days after the invasion began with a stamp on it. Soldiers do not buy stamps when deployed, they get ‘free mail’. A letter with a stamp from him stopped by heart. I about tore it open, read it and cried, Tom cried, I called my mom and dad and they cried with me. Before Brian Williams left the area where the helicopters were grounded, and being protected by the platoon Sean was in he told the soldiers that if they wrote letters home he would be sure it got to us and it did. I will always and forever be thankful to him for doing this for the families.
Brian Williams has been very kind to us. He helped me promote my book “Letters Home” by airing an interview they did with me on Mother’s Day.
Ward’s 2004 book is the only available evidence to support the claim that Balding ever said the helicopter he and Williams were riding in was hit by RPG fire, either publicly or privately.
A source familiar with the operations of NBC News specifically denies Balding ever made such a claim to his colleagues there.
No one else besides Ward has come forward stating that Balding made such a claim.
In addition, Ward says Balding made the claim to her in August 2003. Williams himself did not claim the helicopter was hit by RPG fire until March 2013, more than nine years after Ward says Balding told her the same thing.
Ward is a well-meaning military mom who has demonstrated she has a strong sense of gratitude to Williams. It’s possible she simply heard Balding tell the real story of what happened to the helicopter in the north-bound convoy that actually was hit by RPG fire and thought he was telling the story of the helicopter he and Williams were riding in — the south-bound one that was untouched by RPG or any other fire.
But the real problem in ascertaining the truth of what colleagues of Brian Williams knew about the veracity of his Iraq war claims lies with NBC News, which has failed to offer any defense for a well-respected employee whose reputation has been attacked due to confirmed facts about Williams’s conduct and unsubstantiated claims about his own.