Brian Williams will take a temporary break from anchoring the NBC nightly news amid an internal investigation into Williams’ fabrication of a 2003 war story.
The move comes amid scathing news coverage and calls for the veteran anchor to resign after he acknowledged that contrary to a story he has told repeatedly, he was not on a helicopter that was shot down in Iraq in 2003.
Williams announced the temporary break in a statement released Saturday on the NBC News website. Lester Holt, who normally anchors the newscast on weekends, will fill in for Williams during Williams absence.
Holt, who anchored Saturday’s newscast, didn’t address Williams’ leave of absence until about 13 minutes into the broadcast. He read a portion of the statement and directed viewers to NBC News’ website to read the full statement.
The full text of Williams’ statement is below:
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.
As Managing Editor of NBC Nightly News, I have decided to take myself off of my daily broadcast for the next several days, and Lester Holt has kindly agreed to sit in for me to allow us to adequately deal with this issue. Upon my return, I will continue my career-long effort to be worthy of the trust of those who place their trust in us.
Here’s what you need to know about the scandal engulfing Williams:
1. Williams Had Been Getting Heat From Veterans
After a tribute to the servicemen who helped to save Williams when their chopper was allegedly shot down, Lance Reynolds, a flight engineer who was onboard the real-damaged helicopter, was one of the veterans who took to the NBC Nightly News Facebook page to give Williams hell, saying, “Sorry dude, I don’t remember you being on my aircraft”:
Flight engineer Lance Reynolds told Stars and Stripes:
It was something personal for us that was kind of life-changing for me. I know how lucky I was to survive it. It felt like a personal experience that someone else wanted to participate in and didn’t deserve to participate in.
In an interview dealing with the backlash, Williams told Stars and Stripes:
I would not have chosen to make this mistake. I don’t know what screwed up in my mind that caused me to conflate one aircraft with another.
Williams then apologized on Facebook, directly addressing the veterans who disputed his version of events:
2. His Reporting in New Orleans Was Also Called Into Question
Following the Iraq/helicopter incident, NBC launched an internal investigation into Williams’ reporting. The Guardian published an internal memo that reads: “As you would expect, we have a team dedicated to gathering the facts to help us make sense of all that has transpired. We’re working on what the best next steps are – and when we have something to communicate we will of course share it with you.” It’s also been reported that Williams has repeatedly apologized to members of his own staff at Nightly News. The investigation, includes Williams’ reporting during the humanitarian fallout of Hurricane Katrina. In on sensational claim, Williams spoke about seeing a body float by him, you can watch him talk about it above.
3. Tom Brokaw Denied Calling for Williams’ Resignation
Former NBC news anchor Tom Brokaw has denied a report from Page Six that he had called for Williams to be fired. A source allegedly told Page Six, “Brokaw wants Williams’ head on a platter. He is making a lot of noise at NBC that a lesser journalist or producer would have been immediately fired or suspended for a false report.” It was Brokaw who had presented the broadcast where Williams first debuted his lie back in March 2003, he introduced Williams with the words, “Our colleague Brian Williams is back in Kuwait City tonight after a close call in the skies over Iraq. Brian, tell us what you got yourself into.”
4. Williams Told His False Anecdote Many Times Throughout His Career
Williams’ reporting at the time of the 2003 incident did not “conflate” the aircraft, nor did a Williams blog post recounting the events in 2008. But his mind was sufficiently muddled by 2013 to relay the false account. On the exact 10-year anniversary of the Iraq incident, he shared the story in an interview with David Letterman. Watch the clip above. Skip to 2:30 for the relevant clip.
Williams clearly says in the interview, “Two of our four helicopters were hit by ground fire, including the one I was in, RPG and AK-47.” Williams is a frequent guest on the Late Show with David Letterman.
He’s stepped out of the realm of being just a broadcast journalist. In the past, he’s hosted Saturday Night Live, appeared in episodes of the sitcom 30 Rock, and been featured in a Tonight Show mash-up which appeared to show him rapping. The last such mash-up appeared just a few days before this scandal broke. You can watch it above.
5. Williams Is Getting Skewered by Fox News
The admission raises serious questions about his credibility in a business that values that quality above all else. … For such a high-profile journalist to acknowledge that he essentially invented a story that dramatized his bravery in a war zone is hard to fathom.
It’s not the first time that Fox has gone after Williams either. Back in November 2014, the network’s Eric Bolling named Williams as his “fool of the week.” Bolling’s reasoning was that Brian Williams wasn’t covering Jonathan Gruber, the MIT professor and Obamacare architect who was seen on video insulting the American public. In May 2014, Fox openly criticized Williams’ interview with hacker whistleblower Edward Snowden. The news ratings for the week ending January 26 shows Williams out on top of his rivals for evening news. Nightly News pulled in 9.8 million compared to ABC’s 9.4 million.