Brian Williams suspended without pay for exaggerating Iraq War stories

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NEW YORK–Brian Williams has been suspended for six months without pay following revelations that he exaggerated tales from an Iraq War mission in 2003.

NBC News president Deborah Turness informed staffers of the network’s decision at a meeting shortly after Williams’ fill-in, Lester Holt, finished anchoring Tuesday’s “NBC Nightly News.”

“The suspension will be without pay and is effective immediately,” Turness wrote. “We let Brian know of our decision earlier today. Lester Holt will continue to substitute Anchor the NBC Nightly News.”

The announcement follows a morning meeting between Williams and the CEO of NBCUniversal, Steve Burke, at Burke’s apartment.

Burke said in a statement on Tuesday night, “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.”

Burke added, “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.”

For NBC News, the rolling calamity began last last month when Williams paid tribute on his newscast to a soldier who had provided security to the anchor and his NBC crew in the desert on that day in 2003.

“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 R.P.G,” Williams said on-air. “Our traveling NBC News team was rescued, surrounded and kept alive by an armor mechanized platoon from the U.S. Army 3rd Infantry.”

After a video of the segment was posted by the network on Facebook, several soldiers called out Williams for stretching the truth.

Williams, it turned out, had not been on the helicopter that was hit by an R.P.G.

Williams apologized last Wednesday, both on Facebook and on “Nightly News,” but what he said raised more questions than answers, and the controversy swelled over the next three days.

As skepticism mounted over Williams’ claims about other reporting assignments — namely his coverage of Hurricane Katrina in 2005 — NBC News said Friday that it would conduct an internal investigation into the disputed accounts. Williams was once again in the anchor chair that night.

But on Saturday, Williams said he had become “too much a part of the news” and that he planned to step aside from the newscast for “the next several days.” Williams hunkered down even more on Sunday, canceling a scheduled appearance on the “Late Show with David Letterman.”

By Monday, his attorney was in crisis meetings at 30 Rockefeller Center, where Williams’ posters — celebrating his first-place status in the nightly news wars — hang on the walls.

 

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.