Sometimes You Hear the Bullet: A New Take On The Brian Williams Affair

For anyone who remembers the show MASH, you will undoubtedly recall the episode about Hawkeye’s friend from home named Tommy.

He was a soldier on the front lines writing a book titled “You Never Hear The Bullet”, discussing how, unlike in the movies, death on the battlefield can be sudden and without drama. In a sad irony, Tommy is later shot during an exchange with the enemy, and moments before dying on Hawkeye’s operating table, tells his old friend that he had actually heard the bullet that hit him.

You might be asking yourself why is Roz writing about an episode from an albeit great but old television series?

The Brian Williams affair.

Beyond the immediate and obvious parallels in terms of both stories being set during an armed conflict, the fact that truth as the saying goes, is the first casualty of war, seems appropriate.

But, about which version of truth are we talking?

Contrary to Tommy’s book in which he contends that you never actually hear the bullet that brings about the end, Williams’ downfall appears to have been precipitated by a well intentioned PR announcement at a hockey game.

That’s right, a hockey game. In January of this year, Williams and Command Sergeant Major Tim Terpak, both of who were on the chopper that was allegedly attacked, attended a New York Rangers game together.

Sometime during the proceedings, a camera cast the two on the arena’s big screen, at which time the Rangers PA announcer recounted a story of how Terpak saved Williams and everyone’s life when they were struck by enemy fire in Iraq. The crowds cheered and gave both Terpak and Williams a standing ovation – which both graciously stood up and accepted.

Of course it should be noted that the story doesn’t begin at Madison Square Garden. Over the years there have been seemingly contradictory versions offered by different people – some present at the actual event, of what actually happened to the chopper that day. Williams himself has been somewhat vaguely elusive at times.

However, the January Rangers game – upon which I will focus today, represented the flash-point for an old story that ignited the public’s furor, and tarnished the newsman’s creditability.

So what happened? Did Brian Williams intentionally seek to deceive the public by acquiescing to a more heroic version of the story he has always told to elevate his own image? Or . . . did he remain silent even though he knew that the PA announcer’s version was inaccurate so as not to detract from his guest’s moment in the spotlight?

What is the actual truth?

While I believe that Williams did not intend to deceive, he did make an error in judgment by allowing the story to stand unchallenged both now, as well as in the past. In short, he was caught up in an unexpected series of moments that came back to roost at the most unfortunate of times. Of course, when would have been a good time?

Even if Williams was not directly involved in the ground to air firefight, he did put himself in harms way in an effort to report the news from hostile territory. Things just quite simply got away from Williams, and he failed to respond despite several opportunities, in a manner that set the record straight.

Though Williams finally heard the bullet by way of the PA announcement, he chose not take corrective action. You don’t always realize that what you put out there in the social media world can come back and hurt you . . . until it does.

I have actually written about this “getting away” phenomenon as I call it, in my 2-Part post The Wildfire Effect or How Social Media can destroy a brand as fast as it creates one. Here are the links to both Part 1 and Part 2.

In this ultra connected world where the flow of information and misinformation moves as fast as a lightning bolt, we have to be ever vigilant in terms of protecting our brand. The fact is, social media can stir up public opinion before all the facts are known. In this regard, we are sometimes the author or co-author of our own misfortune, and at other times we never see it coming.

My family and I have been a huge fan of Brian Williams for many years, acknowledging him as a trusted source of information as the face of NBC News. Today, it is truly unfortunate that many people have concluded that he intentionally lied. Even if Brian William’s errors are just casualties of a faulty memory, through a single and unexpected event, his reputation has now been impacted and his credibility is questionable. Whether it is fair or not, we usually only remember the soundbite moments and flashy headlines as the enduring representation of an individual’s life and accomplishments.


While we should all strive to show compassion for those who stumble – especially when it is unintentional or through an aberrative error in judgment, vigilance with regard to your own image or brand should always be the order of the day. Even at a hockey game.


  1. Be diligent: Devote the time to make sure you have the correct information or evidence
  2. Validate: Seek insight from others to make sure you are all on the same page
  3. Research the past: Don’t confuse memories with facts
  4. Invest in passion, not exaggeration: Make your content come alive using your personality

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