Thanks to his many appearances on latenight programs and willingness to serve as a guest host at private events over the years, Brian Williams developed obvious skills as a raconteur. But those abilities may have distracted him from the obligations he had as the anchor of the nation’s most-watched newscast, an NBCUniversal investigation has found.
NBCUniversal disclosed Williams “made a number of inaccurate statements about his own role and experiences covering events in the field,” the company said in a statement Thursday. His exaggerations “did not for the most part occur on NBC News platforms or in the immediate aftermath of the news events,” the company said, without citing the actual on-air instances when Williams misled his audience. Williams largely made outsize claims ” on late-night programs and during public appearances, usually years after the news events in question.”
The result? Williams will not return to the anchor chair at “NBC Nightly News” when he comes back to work in mid-August after serving a six-month suspension. Instead, he will turn to a new task: shoring up MSNBC’s daytime schedule by serving as an anchor of breaking news and special reports. He is to work with Mark Lukasiewicz, senior vice president of special reports for NBCU News Group, and will also hold forth in breaking-news situations for live special reports for NBC News when Holt is not available.
Williams’ problems first came to light earlier this year when it was discovered he had embellished a tale about a ride he took on a helicopter in Iraq during an NBC News reporting trip in 2003. He made false statements during several public appearances and on CBS’ “Late Show With David Letterman.” A helicopter carrying Williams and his crew never came under fire, as Williams stated, but a Chinook copter that was more than an hour ahead of that aircraft did. Williams by his own admission conflated the two air trips and made it seem as if he were under fire. Oddly enough, on a 2003 broadcast of “Dateline,” Williams reported the trip more or less accurately.
“As you would imagine this was a difficult decision,” said Steve Burke, NBCU’s chief executive, in a statement. “Brian Williams has been with NBC News for a very long time and he has covered countless news events with honor and skill. As I said in February, we believe in second chances, and I am hopeful that this new beginning will be good for Brian and the organization.”
NBCUniversal said it examined Williams’ “significant reporting in the field and commentary related to that reporting on NBC News platforms and in other public appearances” over a period of more than a decade, though it did not give an exact timeframe. The review was overseen by Kim Harris, general counsel of NBCUniversal, a former attorney with the White House and U.S. Department of Justice, and conducted by Richard Esposito, who leads the investigative unit at NBC News.
Critics might suggest NBCUniversal isn’t being as transparent as it might with its news viewers. When CBS News ran into a conflagration in 2013 due to a faulty report from correspondent Lara Logan on “60 Minutes,” it offered much more detail about what its executives found in a review of the situation. CBS News detailed not only the cause of the errors in Logan’s “60 Minutes” report but also a specific example of off-camera behavior that did not meet standards: Logan had taken a public position on the U.S. government’s handling of Benghazi and Al Qaeda while continuing to report on the “60 Minutes” story that covered those very topics.
“This matter has been extensively analyzed and deliberated on by NBC,” Burke said in the statement. “We are moving forward.” A spokesman for NBCU News Group could not be reached for immediate comment on whether the company would make additional disclosures.
In a statement of apology, Williams disclosed that he “said things that weren’t true,” though he did not detail what lies he told and when he told them.