NBC has suspended Nightly News anchor Brian Williams for six months without pay. The punishment comes as NBC News continues to investigate Williams' false retelling of events that occurred during the Iraq War, a blunder that embroiled America's top evening news man (and by association NBC's entire news division) in controversy. Williams, who succeeded Tom Brokaw on Nightly News, had long been seen as one of the network's most reliable and trusted figures.
But in a January 30th Nightly News report, Williams "misrepresented events which occurred while he was covering the Iraq War in 2003," NBC now admits. He told NBC's millions of viewers that a helicopter he was riding in had been forced down by enemy fire; Williams has recited the ever-changing story numerous times through the years — going so far as to repeat it during an appearance on The Late Show with David Letterman.
Ultimately though, it was a Facebook comment thread that — once picked up by military magazine Stars and Stripes — turned Williams' questionable memory into national headlines and threw NBC's respected news business into disarray. This past weekend, Williams announced he was temporarily removing himself from Nightly News, but NBC has handed down a stiffer disciplining of its own top-rated evening anchor.
Williams admitted that he "misremembered" the episode both on Facebook and during a subsequent Nightly News broadcast, but the apology rang hollow for many viewers. NBC's investigation hasn't yet come to a conclusion, but the network apparently feels confident enough to issue an immediate suspension against Williams. "This was wrong and completely inappropriate for someone in Brian's position," said NBC News president Deborah Turness in a memo distributed to staff and press outlets this evening. "As Managing Editor and Anchor of Nightly News, Brian has a responsibility to be truthful and to uphold the high standards of the news division at all times." Lester Holt will continue to helm Nightly News in Williams' absence. Turness' full memo follows below.
We have decided today to suspend Brian Williams as Managing Editor and Anchor of NBC Nightly News for six months. The suspension will be without pay and is effective immediately. We let Brian know of our decision earlier today. Lester Holt will continue to substitute Anchor the NBC Nightly News.
Our review, which is being led by Richard Esposito working closely with NBCUniversal General Counsel Kim Harris, is ongoing, but I think it is important to take you through our thought process in coming to this decision.
While on Nightly News on Friday, January 30, 2015, Brian misrepresented events which occurred while he was covering the Iraq War in 2003. It then became clear that on other occasions Brian had done the same while telling that story in other venues. This was wrong and completely inappropriate for someone in Brian’s position.
In addition, we have concerns about comments that occurred outside NBC News while Brian was talking about his experiences in the field.
As Managing Editor and Anchor of Nightly News, Brian has a responsibility to be truthful and to uphold the high standards of the news division at all times.
Steve Burke, Pat Fili and I came to this decision together. We felt it would have been wrong to disregard the good work Brian has done and the special relationship he has forged with our viewers over 22 years. Millions of Americans have turned to him every day, and he has been an important and well-respected part of our organization.
As I’m sure you understand, this was a very hard decision. Certainly there will be those who disagree. But we believe this suspension is the appropriate and proportionate action.
This has been a difficult time. But NBC News is bigger than this moment. You work so hard and dedicate yourselves each and every day to the important work of bringing trusted, credible news to our audience. Because of you, your loyalty, your dedication, NBC News is an organization we can — and should — all be proud of. We will get through this together.
Steve Burke asked me to share the following message.
"This has been a painful period for all concerned and we appreciate your patience while we gathered the available facts. By his actions, Brian has jeopardized the trust millions of Americans place in NBC News. His actions are inexcusable and this suspension is severe and appropriate. Brian’s life’s work is delivering the news. I know Brian loves his country, NBC News and his colleagues. He deserves a second chance and we are rooting for him. Brian has shared his deep remorse with me and he is committed to winning back everyone’s trust."
Correction: The article originally referred to Williams as "cable's top-rated evening anchor." He in fact leads ratings among network news anchors.