Brian Williams Apologizes: ‘I Said Things That Weren’t True’

Brian Williams Matt Lauer Today
Courtesy of NBC

NBC sent its best-known morning-news anchor, Matt Lauer, to grill its best-known evening-news host, Brian Williams, in an exchange on its popular “Today” that was by turns awkward, dramatic and surreal – and aimed at easing Williams back into acceptance in a daytime perch at a sister cable outlet.

Matt Lauer, in an interview he told “Today” viewers had “no conditions or guidelines” placed on it, pressed now-demoted anchor Brian Williams hard for the real reasons why he had, over the years, embellished stories of his reporting exploits. In return, Williams offered excuses, but never really managed to cough up an explanation.

“It had to have been ego that made me think I had to be sharper, funnier, quicker than anybody else,” Williams said in a taped interview that was shown in two segments on Thursday morning’s “Today.”  Yet when Lauer offered the newsman, now set to embark upon a new career as a breaking-news anchor at MSNBC, a chance to detail for viewers the false stories he had told and when he told them, Williams demurred. NBCUniversal has taken a similar stance, refusing to tell the public the exact instances in which Williams made embellishments.

The comments are Williams’ first in public since being suspended without pay from NBC News in February amid a mushrooming controversy over false statements he made about a 2003 reporting trip to Iraq. In several venues, including a moment on “Nightly News” and in a visit to CBS’ “Late Show with David Letterman,” Williams said he was aboard a helicopter that was under enemy fire. His statements were earlier this year challenged by military veterans.

On Thursday, NBCUniversal announced that Williams would be relocated from his perch as “NBC Nightly News” anchor to MSNBC where he will focus on breaking news and specials. Lester Holt, the veteran anchor who was tapped to sub for Williams after the suspension, has been named his permanent replacement.

An NBC News investigation found that Williams had made misstatements of fact about his experiences on more than one occasion, mostly during his TV and public appearances outside of NBC News platforms.  In the “Today” interview, Williams said he allowed himself to operate under a double standard, of sorts, when he was not on NBC that allowed him to be “sloppier” with his choice of words.

Lauer did not blanch from asking Williams tough questions. “Did you not deal with the reality that when you walked away from NBC, whether it was to appear on a latenight show or some other venue, some other interview show, that the title and the responsibilities of anchor-slash-managing editor traveled with you?” Williams said he erred in trying to make himself more a part of the action he covered than was appropriate or necessary.Lauer also asked if Williams knowingly lied to viewers on “NBC Nightly News” earlier in the year, leaving the anchor to fumble for an explanation that made sense. “Was it conscious, Brian?….Did you know it was not true?” Williams said the on-air gaffe “came from a sloppy choice of words,” a response that does not mesh with logic. He cited “a bad place, a bad urge inside me” as the rationale for his actions, and said he did not deliberately intend to mislead people. “I own this, I own up to this,” Williams said.

Williams vowed to live by “different rules of the road,” and told Lauer he was “a grateful and chastened man” who valued the opportunity to have a second chance. “I am sorry for what’s happened here. I am different as a result,” he said.

Yet he also told Lauer he pushed back against leaving his roost at the network’s evening-news program. “Was it my first choice? No. Obviously, I wanted to return to my old job.” he said. Now, Williams intends to win back acceptance from viewers, even those that are skeptical. He vowed “to work every day for it” and even said he would consider going “door to door” if such a thing were indeed possible and might help him re-establish a relationship with viewers.

The interview, portions of which will also be played this evening on “NBC Nightly News,” is a first step by NBCUniversal to rehabilitate the reputation of one of the most recognizable faces on its networks. Williams’ move to MSNBC could prove a benefit for the cable-news network, which has seen its ratings tumble in recent years. Under its president, Phil Griffin, MSNBC is emphasizing breaking-news coverage during its daytime schedule, while continuing to present news analysis through a progressive lens during primetime.

Speaking to viewers on her program Thursday evening, MSNBC Rachel Maddow said she was “happy” Williams was coming to MSNBC and suggested he should have a chance to redeem himself.  His interview with Lauer marked an intitial attempt by a major media corporation to do just that, but even Lauer could not get the newsman to do the one thing that would accomplish that goal – telling viewers exactly what he did wrong, and why.

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  1. meme says:

    I hope everyone can move on. He needs a second chance and forgiveness. This apology was heartbreaking and wish him the best, let’s all move on and wish him well in his new position.

  2. Ima Right says:

    WONDER WHY PMSNBC THE OBAMA ‘FORWARD’ PROGRESSIVE PROPGANDA CHANNEL
    CAN’T GET ANY RATINGS EXCEPT FROM FAR FAR LEFT WING NUTJOBS OR THE GAYS???

  3. Sam America says:

    FUNNY HOW THE PROGRESSIVE LIBERALS CAN LIE AND MAKE UP PHONY STORIES AND
    ALL THIS PROGRESSIVE CRAP LIKE CLIMATE CHANGE, TRANSGENDER GAY LESBIAN,
    NEUTRAL GENDER, SOCIALISM WORKS WHEN IT FAILS EVERY TIME ETC…AND GET
    CAUGHT IN LIES AND SCANDALS LIKE BENGHAZI, FAST N FURIOUS, SOYLANDRA AND
    DON’T FORGET ‘KEEP YOUR DOCTOR’ ‘NO DEATH PANELS’ ‘REDUCE COST’ LIES OF
    OBAMA DEATH CARE AND THEY ADMIT THEY LIED TO ILLEGALLY PASS THIS CRAP
    ON AMERICA AND YET THEY CAN SO OH SORRY! AND IT’S OKAY? BUT ANYTIME THE
    RIGHT OR CONSERVATIVE ETC..GETS CAUGHT OR LIES OR MAKES A MISTAKE IT’S
    A WITCH HUNT AND DEATH SENTENCE BY THE LEFT AND THE BIAS MEDIA! THEY ARE
    NOTHING BUT LYING HIPPOCRITES WHO HATE THIS COUNTRY AND THE ONLY REASON
    THEY PUSH ALL THIS CRAP IS THEY GET RICHER AND MORE POWERFUL WHILE TAKING
    OVER THIS COUNTRY AND DESTROYING AMERICA! THEY ALL HAVE MASSIVE EGOS!
    TRY AND TELL SOME DOPE BRAINWASHED LIBERAL FACTS AND THEY JUST DENY IT!

  4. Sandra says:

    He doesn’t need to “go door to door”. The reality is, the media care more about this than the viewer does. Another tempest in a teapot. WE DON’T CARE!!

  5. Nanny Mo says:

    Why is it that men like Williams gets to apologize and still get to keep his job and make $10 million dollars a year, while others who think differently (and have that right in a free land) are fired and castigated nationally even after an apology? I can’t trust Williams with my news so I’ll have to watch a different channel (actually, I just go to the internet nowadays. I haven’t watched TV news in 4 years.)

  6. B.M. says:

    He will be back, and we kind of knew it from the start. The system needs liars like Brian to support this ridicoulous corporate house of cards they dare calling “the Homeland”.

  7. Gail says:

    Let’s ask George S if he remembers donating 75,000 over 3 years to the Clinton’s… But ABC will keep him as the White House correspondent handling the election !!! They all lie and get paid to do it and we continue to watch .

  8. Eva Hua says:

    as a human being I am pretty sure if I was in a helicopter in a war zone that got hit by multiple rockets before an emergency landing…well I think I would remember it pretty clearly.

    Seriously, this guy should be fired immediately, as should any journalist who clearly just fabricates (some embellishment is unavoidable I am sure).

    The integrity of these people is just mind boggling. I remember when Obama told us, “If you like your doctor, you can keep your doctor. If you like your health care plan, you can keep your health care plan.” And he said it with a straight face! Well, guess what Obama? My health plan isn’t the one I used to pay $225/month for. I’m paying $500 for second rate coverage. My car insurance is still $25/month (from Insurance Panda) and my renters insurance is still $10/month, thank god. So don’t you dare be messing those up too, Obama!

    Reminds me off Hillary saying that she landed in Bosnia under Sniper fire and when that was also reported to be untrue, she somehow said she may have exaggerated her account.

    If this was O’Reily or Hannity or any one of a dozen other “right wing” reporters, the entire industry would be in an uproar and the word Conflate would never have been uttered with a straight face.

  9. Tom Siebert says:

    Crash ‘n’ burn. Painful. So un-self-aware.

    • Tom Siebert says:

      This stealth political post quickly degenerated from BWilliams to right wing talking points. Just out of curiosity, “Eva,” what state do you live in? Is it a state where Republican elected officials refused to expand Medicaid, making it more difficult for you to get cost-saving benefits under the Affordable Care Act? If that’s the case, this is not the fault of the president.

      Your defense of Bill O’Reilly, particularly considering the recent revelations of his lies of being “under fire,” is equally egregious. The Hillary stuff, however, is right-on, and it’s unfortunate you chose to include the other obvious partisan misinformation and propaganda, because it undermines the one incident of truth included amongst all your misdirection.

  10. TONY says:

    Yeah Ok. Bring the LIAR back.

  11. Calling it says:

    He lied. Period. And he still won’t own it.

  12. Steve J says:

    Lauer kept using the words “lie” and “untruths” but Williams kept countering with softer phrases – like saying what he said was not right. Like a politician, Williams kept explaining himself with the same words regardless of the question Lauer asked. My take is that Williams wasn’t coming clean.

  13. Ted Faraone says:

    The reason that Brian Williams cannot say exactly what he said wrong and why is simple. It’s a Fish Story. A guy spends a day fishing, catches a fish of moderate size, and then goes to the bar on the dock. After a few drinks he tells the fish story to other fishermen. As a regular fisherman, he tells and retells the story for weeks and months and years. The fish gets bigger with each repetition. After enough retellings he has caught Moby Dick. By this point, he can’t remember where truth stopped and embellishment began. This is similar to Mr. Massino’s thinking in his comment. Face it. There is an urge, especially in men, to brag. Why should Brian Williams be immune. The problem for him is that if he says it on TV instead of at the bar people who know the real story may call him out for the embellishment. In his position perhaps it is better not to go fishing.

  14. S Massino says:

    I understand Brian Williams and the term “misremembering”. I recently turned 70 years old and for the last several years I have “remembered ” past event details and repeated stories as I remembered them but others who were also at the event corrected me and some of my memories were incorrect.
    I believed my version was true and would swear on a Bible they were , I was not lying , I truly believed my version was the truth, but later found out that it was not true. Everyone will get to this age or older and misremember event details that happened many years ago. Mr Williams has had a career that is excellent and if people can not forgive him a lapse in memory as he gets older and give him a second chance what type of country is this? Even killers, robbers, men who kidnap children, pedophiles and rapists and many others get a second chance. ABC has made a mistake and should hold all their other newstaff to the same values, because they do not. I will will not watch the nightly news any longer and will discourage others from doing so.
    Shirley

    • The difference, Shirley, is you are not a television journalist upon whom millions of people rely on for an accurate recounting of your involvement in certain events. A lapse in memory for you doesn’t result in misinformation to millions. I may not wash my hands every time I potentially come into contact with germs, but that wouldn’t stop me from jumping off the operating room table if my surgeon came in with a little dirt under his nails. Different rolls, different expectations. That they didn’t send Williams packing shows how NBC News values Williams’ celebrity more than the truth. Bad call, but not at all surprising.

      • Nanny Mo says:

        “Mr Williams has had a career that is excellent”. No, Shirley, he has had a career based on lies. And I can tell you what type of country we are living in. Liberal career lairs get second and fifth chances while non-liberals do not. Also, it’s odd (and sad) that you see William’s struggle as being about you. It’s not about you. It’s about a national news source telling lies to millions of viewers rega

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