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Thursday, February 5, 2015

Brian Williams Says He Misremembered…Can That Really Happen?

Moderator Brian Williams watches a video which pays tribute to late moderator Tim Russert during a taping of "Meet the Press" at the NBC studios June 22, 2008 in Washington, DC. (Alex Wong/Getty Images for Meet the Press)

Moderator Brian Williams watches a video which pays tribute to late moderator Tim Russert during a taping of “Meet the Press” at the NBC studios June 22, 2008 in Washington, DC. (Alex Wong/Getty Images for Meet the Press)

After reporting from Iraq in 2003, NBC’s Brian Williams told the world in great detail about how the helicopter he had been in was shot down.

The only problem was it was not true. We now know that he was in a different helicopter, which was not shot down.

After being called out this week, he apologized, saying he had misremembered. So Here & Now‘s Jeremy Hobson asked expert Elizabeth Loftus, a professor of psychology and social behavior at University of California Irvine School of Law, about the phenomenon of false memory.

Interview Highlights

On whether it is possible
“Absolutely. One of the things that is fascinating to me about this case is the evolution of his memory. You just played the 2013 version, but he had other versions early on. About two years after this March 2003 incident, he appeared to be starting to remember that he had witnessed another helicopter being attacked and then about two years after that he started to develop a memory that it was the one that he was in that was attacked. So, when you see how the sausage got made, it’s pretty interesting.”

“Sometimes people develop memories for things that they’ve heard other people talk about, so they kind of hijack the stories of other people.”

On how that is possible
“We can visual things, we can draw inferences of what could of happened or might have happened and sometimes those visualizations can get converted into something that feels like a genuine memory.”

For example
“Sometimes people develop memories for things that they’ve heard other people talk about, so they kind of hijack the stories of other people, even inadvertently.”

Guest

  • Elizabeth Loftus, a professor of psychology and social behavior at University of California Irvine School of Law

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Robin Young and Jeremy Hobson host Here & Now, a live two-hour production of NPR and WBUR Boston.

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