Brian Williams, the NBC “Nightly News” anchor who admitted he falsely recounted a story that he was in a helicopter that was hit by ground fire in Iraq in 2003, was suspended without pay by for six months, according to an internal NBC News memo.
The memo, written by NBC News President Deborah Turness, says Williams was notified of the suspension Tuesday and that an investigation into his actions continues. She said Williams “misrepresented events,” which she called “wrong and completely inappropriate for someone in Brian’s position.”
NBC chief executive officer Steve Burke included a statement in Turness’s memo, saying Williams “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.”
An interview with Star and Stripes newspaper conducted last week and published Monday provided a more detailed look at the embattled anchor’s recollection of the events 12 years ago. Williams backed out of scheduled appearance on David Letterman’s “Late Show” this coming Thursday.
Williams, who has apologized for telling the false story, told Stars and Stripes that being a “scared” civilian made his recollection of events far different that the soldiers he was covering.
“Adding to the fear of the moment was the fact that we unhooked, our load master let loose a huge, our cargo, so you go through this over-torque where you rise in the air before you settle, despite what was some dandy piloting by the crews of all three aircraft,” Williams told Stars and Stripes. “It was like landing on the surface of the moon. And I’m going to have a far different recollection than the professionals.”
Williams said that he “assumed” that the Chinook helicopter he was on was just one of several that was damaged by ground fire.
“I don’t know what screwed up in my mind that caused me to conflate one aircraft from the other,” he said. “The fact is, I remember three aircraft going down. I was on one of them.”
Williams told the false story on the air recently during a story about Tim Terpak, an Army officer who he had befriended when Terpak was assigned to protect the NBC crew. Williams told Stars and Stripes he was “very frustrated” that his false account would undermine his effort to honor the veteran.
The full memo from Turness 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.”