By Jon Keller

BOSTON (CBS) – NBC’s Brian Williams says his account of being shot at while on board a U.S. military helicopter in 2003 is not true.

Williams has been telling the story often over the years. And up until 2013, he never claimed that his chopper took fire during a reporting trip to Iraq, but after veterans who were there started calling him out publicly over the past few days for recent embellishments, Williams has confessed, touching off a journalistic and military backlash.

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“The story actually started with a terrible moment a dozen years back during the invasion of Iraq when the helicopter we were traveling in was forced down after being hit by an RPG,” Williams previously said on NBC News.

It’s a tale Williams has told repeatedly, to viewers of his own network and others.

But Wednesday night, he acknowledged it was not true.

“I want to apologize, I said I was traveling in an aircraft that was hit by RPG fire, I was instead in a following aircraft,” Williams said Wednesday.

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To former Marine Chris Lessard of the veteran advocacy group Massachusetts Fallen Heroes, Williams’ claim that he somehow became confused over whether or not his chopper took fire is implausible, the exaggeration unacceptable.

“I think he has a lot to answer for,” Lessard says. “Taking fire and being in combat, that’s a rite of passage, and that’s a serious thing, so when someone infringes upon that, I’m expecting a large backlash from the veteran community on this.”

“It’s become part of his brand and the NBC brand,” Northeastern Professor Dan Kennedy said.

Kennedy, a journalism expert, said the detailed repetition of the falsehood suggests a willful violation of public trust.

“He went somewhere we didn’t go, experienced something and came back and told us about it,” Professor Kennedy said. “That’s journalism, and it turned out that it was false.”

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So what happens next? Neither Williams nor NBC are talking since Wednesday night’s apology. But social media is exploding with a mix of anger and ridicule. And one nationally known debunker of false military stories, B.J. Burkett of Texas, author of “Stolen Valor” tells WBZ he also expects a major ongoing backlash from veterans’ groups.

Jon Keller