Brian Williams Suspended From NBC News for Six Months

brian williams NBC
Image Courtesy of NBC

Hoping to tamp down a controversy growing around one of its best-known on-air personalities, NBC News on Tuesday suspended Brian Williams, the most-watched evening-news anchor in the U.S., from his duties as chief anchor and managing editor of “NBC Nightly News” for six months without pay in the wake of a scandal over misleading statements he made about his time covering the Iraq War in 2003.

The furor over Williams’ embellishments have engulfed NBC News since early last week, when his account of facing enemy fire while riding in a helicopter in 2003 was challenged by Iraq veterans. Williams’ last broadcast took place on Friday. Lester Holt will continue as substitute anchor.

NBC News has launched an internal probe of Williams’ statements about the Iraq helicopter incident as well as other reporting that has since been challenged, NBC News said in a statement released Tuesday evening.

“We have concerns about comments that occurred outside NBC News while Brian was talking about his experiences in the field,” NBC News president Deborah Turness said in a memo distributed Tuesday night.

Williams’ suspension was “severe and appropriate,” NBCUniversal CEO Steve Burke said in the statement, but he also asserted that Williams “deserves a second chance, and we are rooting for him” even though he called the anchor’s actions “inexcusable.”

The decision was made jointly by Turness; Pat Fili-Krushel, chairman of the NBCUniversal News Group, to whom Turness reports; and Burke.

At the heart of the matter is Williams’ falsification during several public appearances and on CBS’ “Late Show With David Letterman” of an incident that took place on a reporting trip to Iraq. A helicopter carrying Williams and his crew never came under fire, 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.

For NBCU the ramifications of his actions may be severe. Williams’ newscast has been the steadfast asset in NBCUniversal’s entire news portfolio. Its “Today” morning show remains in second place behind “Good Morning America” after ceding the top spot in 2012. “Meet the Press” is trying to gain traction after the ouster of one anchor, David Gregory, and the installation of another, Chuck Todd. Business-news network CNBC is struggling in daytime, so much so that the company said it will no longer do business with advertisers based on Nielsen ratings starting in the fourth quarter of this year. And MSNBC is trying to recalibrate itself in the wake of a ratings drop after thriving as a liberal-tilting news network.

Under Williams, “Nightly” has successfully fended off a challenge from ABC’s “World News.” With new anchor David Muir at its helm, that evening newscast has made strides in the audience most coveted by advertisers in news programming, adults 25-54. Whether “Nightly News” can fend off Muir in Williams’ absence remains to be seen.

In recent days, Williams’ ability to anchor the newscast was thrown into increasing degrees of doubt. News outlets began investigating any number of claims he made about past reporting exploits, including time spent covering Hurricane Katrina. Questions were raised about why NBC News had not forced Williams to stop telling the helicopter tale. And the propriety of having an anchor who lied about his own on-the-job actions telling the nation about developments in the world of politics and foreign affairs seemed skewed.

“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,” Turness said in the memo.

NBC is essentially following a textbook play. When other TV-network correspondents have made serious gaffes, their networks have suspended either them or their producers, sometimes both. In some cases, the reporter must struggle to find normalcy.

Claims made in a 2004 edition of the now-defunct “60 Minutes II” newsmagazine about President George W. Bush’s service in the National Guard in the 1970s turned out to be based on documents that could not be authenticated. In the aftermath of that report, CBS set up an independent investigation, which led to the firing of the segment’s supervisor. Three other supervising execs were asked to resign. The report tarnished the reputation of CBS News anchor Dan Rather, who delivered the segment.

In 2013, CBS News suspended “60 Minutes” correspondent Lara Logan and a producer, Max McClellan, after a report they delivered on an Oct. 27 broadcast of the newsmagazine that year turned out to be based largely on the accounts of a source who provided inaccurate information. CBS made its decision after having Logan deliver an apology on air, and then investigating the process behind the report.

Williams has been a near-ubiquitous presence at NBC, making appearances on everything ranging from “Saturday Night Live” to “The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon.” For six months, at least, he will stay off the TV screen. All kinds of things can happen in half a year in the TV industry, and what happens at the end of Williams’ suspension remains to be seen.

Here is Turness’ full memo:

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.”

Deborah

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  1. justine amerella says:

    To the decisions makers of nbc. Ever think clearly enough to reinstate ann Curry to anchor women of the today show. because with out her it is a show only 2nd to the idiotic view. sorry I only turn to real news which is pbs british news. now that the journalists are frustrated movie wanna be’s never will watch nbc programs until you clean up the boys club.

  2. jill burrows says:

    We love Lester Holt and have always held him in high repute. He is trustworthy, reports on real news stories in a fair and professional manner (in addition to very interesting human interest stories). He is inclusive of reporters/weather reporters of any gender, color, or national origin. His reporting from Baltimore tells it all: strikingly efficient and yet moving. He has a nice crisp but very accessible style. I believe he has earned the role.

  3. Charlene J Rentz says:

    I was a TRUE BLUE FAN OF BRIAN WILLIAMS until he just flat out lied. There was no excuse for this. I do not think NBC will ever raise it’s ratings by bringing HIM back. He can not be trusted. DO NOT BRING HIM BACK. Lester Holt is doing a great job.

  4. Aaron haul says:

    Smh -.-

  5. Ethel Lee says:

    I am disappointed with Brian’s action. I have watched him for years. He presents the news in such a professional manner. It is done with much compassion, but without bias. I feel that the suspension was fair. But, I hope that he returns to work, as I believe he truly regrets this big mistakes.

  6. Yimminia says:

    what is happing to our freedom of speech and where is the support of our CEO, when someone like William Brain can make a honest mistake on reporting something wrong, especially when your in war and a very dangerous situation. NBC should not have suspended him with out pay, especially for 6 months. We all know that Obama controls the media. He was one of the reporters that would ask the tough questions and the White house wanted him out.

  7. Kaleen says:

    First of all, the “without pay” part of this suspension was kind of interesting. Was that really much of a punishment when he is making reportedly $ 10 million per year? I would assume he has a nice piggy bank somewhere and not getting paid for 6 mths. won’t be any big deal.

    Second, if he is not permitted to speak in public about the matter or pursue other interests since he still a contracted employee of NBCU (until they decide what to do with him)….then I believe that will be the punishment side of all this. I think being in isolation and out of the public eye—will be like house arrest to him. I think he will understand the severity of what has happened to him and he will be ever so careful as to who he privately confides in. And if you think about it, he will be spending the next 6 mths rehearsing the words he will be saying when the cameras are once again upon him.

    We all know there are bigger names out there swimming in the fish bowl who haven’t gotten caught. He just thought he would never get hooked, but he was wrong.

    Anyway, I’m rather sad about the matter cause I really do like watching him. I know when you do the crime, you do the time….but he did publically apologize and personally at the time, I wasn’t even sure why he was apologizing when I saw him speak about it. I had no clue until I read about the story here on the internet. Maybe a lot of other viewers were like myself and wasn’t sure what Brian was talking about and with the event being so old….why care about it now….but I guess this whole thing was bigger than I thought. I do feel bad for him, but on the other hand….I want some sort of honesty from the news media.

  8. srvwp2013 says:

    There are no “second acts” in American lives. This instance should continue that tradition. By the time September comes around we will already be more than ready for new football seasons, new television seasons, and new seasons and beginnings of all kinds — going to new schools, new jobs, new homes and all the rest. We have no need of Brian coming back as an old hack to intrude upon the landscape of America in September of 2015. He should disappear into that landscape just as Dan Rather and countless others have done. Brian has strutted his hour upon the stage and he has fallen off that stage. He broke his own legs.

  9. Don says:

    The news executives will use any lame accuse or getting rid of someone they don’t like. Well what goes around comes around…. No more NBC news for me….. What a joke…. Land of the free…. Freedom of speech….. What a joke NBC news has become.

    • Yimminia says:

      I agree Don. It pisses me off. That the CEO are all about politicians. If reporters cannot report freely, then guess who next, Us and good bye freedom of speech.

  10. A 30 year Veteran says:

    I just don’t understand why some folks want to let “bygones be bygones” and let Brian Williams off the hook for what he did. And you call that 60 second on-air crap an apology!!?? You’ve got to be kidding me – “my memory was conflated”???? That was the most insincere and arrogant attempt at trying to save his over inflated, $10M a year salary. Yup – that’s all it was, an attempt to keep getting all that money. Let’s not forget that he built his so called credibility on the backs of the military personnel that made sure he was safe and secure during his “harrowing and life threatening experience in a war zone”. He “Stole the Valor” from the Veterans that really did come under fire that day. Let’s put one other thing in perspective – if everyone on that mission decided to make the military a career, you can add up all their salaries for their entire 20 year career and you will still not come close to the one year ($10M) salary that Mr. Williams will collect. Please – don’t come back at me and tell me that it was an honest mistake. What he did was well calculated – he “Stole their Valor”, all for prestige and money.

  11. bkbeach4x4 says:

    The truth is Brian Williams may play fast and loose with the truth. I once bought a used car from him and it did not fly, heck I couldn’t even get it up to take off speed. I just can’t imagine the storyline he would do each December 24th was a fabrication. You expect me to believe all mt present just magically appeared with no help from the north pole elves? It that is true then who is coming down my chimney on Christmas Eve and leaving such a mess?

  12. Robin Ratner says:

    Steve Burke – With due respect, the punishment does not fit the crime; it is so disproportionate in light of BW’s service, and his unfailing news reports never colored with his personal opinion. He apologized on air for misstating that he was in the aircraft that took fire, instead of the stating he was in the aircraft following. I doubt it felt any less frightening to him at the time. The punishment for exaggerating a twelve year old event of his personal experience during wartime, would be fitting if we learned BW wasn’t there at all. Said day for NBC new viewers – I guess I will return in six months as well.

  13. BH says:

    Thank you Brian. You are a breath of fresh air. I wholeheartedly agree.

  14. Brian says:

    Brian Williams is the scapegoat, fall guy or whatever else you want to call him, for other executives and hire-ups to cover their ass. He made a mistake. Stupid yes, end of the world and appropriate to take him off the air for 6 months without pay, no. News is all about sensationalism nowadays. How may news people are confessing about their addictions online, alcoholism or drugs, or their cancer and battles with that. It’s all about ratings, it’s a business. So Brian Williams didn’t have his “saga story” to tell, so he embellished a little bit, does that make him less trust worthy? In my opinion no. I take everything I see, online, news, people face to face with a grain of salt and skepticism. Most people exaggerate. Because of this move, I will not be viewing any NBC news, local or national from now on (nothing personal Mr. Holt). If Brian Williams comes back to NBC, I will too, or I’ll follow him elsewhere. NBCs attempt to do what’s right has lost al least one loyal viewer, because their executives are all about the big business of making money, not that they care about me.

  15. geri313 says:

    “This was wrong and completely inappropriate for someone in Brian’s position,” Turness said in the memo.” No Ms. Turness, you’ve got that wrong. It was wrong and completely inappropriate for ANYONE to do, but in PARTICULAR in Brian’s position. Honesty isn’t an option. It’s an expectation. And for a TV news anchor it is mandatory, no questions asked – ever. The network news anchor job is considered mecca for a broadcast journalist. And as one, I am ashamed of what Brian Williams did. Give Lester Holt the job and move forward. Suspending him only prolongs the inevitable. We expect this sort of thing from the misnamed Fox News, but for a genuine news organization it’s simply unacceptable.

  16. Lucien says:

    I would be interested in seeing a copy of the “morals clause” he may have signed when he joined the network. Do they have one at NBC? This doesn’t fall under the guise of “breach of ethics”? 10 million a year would seem to have a person held to a “stellar” behavior model and firing him would seem the right thing, under the circumstances . Maybe NBC just doesn’t give a sh*t about credibility and Integrity or the American public. Good to know.

  17. Summer breeze says:

    What are you doing Mr. Burke? Killing the peacock one person at a time? What is your corporate culture? Push the anchors to brand level, and when they do a really really good job of fulfilling managements expectations you sit back and enjoy the ratings and the profits. Then they get caught and you banish them.
    What’s wrong with this picture? It’s all too commonplace in America. Get away with as much as you can as long as you don’t get caught.

    If Brian Williams comes back I will be there. And if he comes back to another station I will be there too. And so will many. Personally I can’t even begin to imagine what the man is going through now.

  18. john says:

    I feel bad for the guy but whether he’s there or not, it changes nothing re: how inadequate the news is. The major news channel’s main function is to work hard to appease those in power and maintain their facade of elitist respectability. Their leanings with political groups, friendships with business entities and other sponsors makes covering and acting as a voice of the people a conflict of interest.

    Brian Williams anchoring one of the many impotent news organization isn’t the issue. Mainstream Media is the problem. Williams has been with NBC since 1993 – 22 years. Like in any business where money and appeasing others is the bottom line, he was crucified by the very bosses that have turned news into one big info-entertainment center. In any case, we still have the NBC-sanctioned videos of Brian Williams rapping: “Well, so far you’ve heard my voice but I brought two friends along… and next on the mike is my man Hank!.Come on, Hank, sing that song!”

  19. Nicole says:

    The world has bigger issues. I understand we have to be punished for our wrong doings, but let it go. It’s been over 11 years ago. Honestly I think people have nothing better to do.

  20. TOM says:

    Kicked to the curb just like Ann Curry. What a network of credibility. Next he’ll be reporting that George Zimmerman used the N word.

  21. Roderick says:

    He earns 13 million a year for what? What a joke…

  22. shingoex says:

    Imagine if Fox News were held to this same standard. There would be nobody to report the news at all.

  23. J.E. Vizzusi says:

    Fabrication of News for purposes of better ratings has been happening since the days of Walter Winchall. Dan Rather’s own admission of staging a civil rights riot because his crew got to the scene late is pointed out in The Camera Never Blinks. Its a deep seeded problem of National News Anchor’s insane egoes and the right story to Lead with. We the people are closer today in relating to Chaeskys character Howard Beal in NETWORK screaming, I’m Mad as Hell and I can’t take it anymore!

  24. Team USA says:

    Well now, time to ‘slow-jam’ his exit. But fear not leftists, NBC has a deep bench of Marxists ready to read you the daily prattle of corrupted angles on the news.

  25. Shannon Fisher says:

    Variety: Seems to me Mr Williams has been chosen as a escape goat. Every person on earth and the moon remembers ” The Most Trusted Man in America ” Walter Croncite many a documentary he had noted the pumped up journalism by news broadcasters. Everyone in the world knows this. Can’t find exact quote from his book on this.
    My opinion Brian has either steeped on wrong shoes. Or info on those big shoes he steeped on.
    Granted he’s told some whoopers. but we’ve forgave “presidents” with lies !

  26. Trump says:

    Was it any surprise to anyone to find out that the our oh so trusted media is not to be so trusted?

    • Summer breeze says:

      No. What is a surprise is the lack of loyalty on the part of NBC. How quickly very long term employees just get “kicked to the curb” as one poster put it. The sense of fairness and grace in this country is gone. And for those who stick to their honesty morals. Good. That’s commendable. But wake up. hood moral, wrong story. Brian didn’t hurt anyone or distort real news. Only his experience. Heavens. Horrors. Travesty. Was that really worse than how he’s being treated?

  27. Summer breeze says:

    Mr. Burke. For whatever reasons I have more trust and faith in Brian than you. Brian’s behavior simply reflects the values of NBC. This has all been so ugly. You’re just paving the path to have Brian leave. It’s so obvious and so unfortunate and sad.

    Corporate America is pathetic. An embarrassment. How many more employees are you going to discard?

  28. macd says:

    Brian Williams should not be fired. But during his 6-month suspension, check out David Muir, who recently took over ABC’s World News Tonight and is the best thing to happen to network newscasts in a very long time.

    • c o says:

      Sorry, but David Muir is lame. Count the number of times he says “and now we turn to…” Or “now we move on to…” Reeks of tabloid journalism. And the whole segment on Apple proved to be just another commercial embedded in a newscast. No thanks.

    • Stuart Malan says:

      An overreaction to an overreaction. I honestly feel bad for the guy. Fox News Anchors can say whatever they want but Williams gets a six month suspension. By that logic Fox News shouldn’t have anyone on air.

  29. rbt2flyd says:

    NBC had to give the public some form a decision concerning Brian Williams. Lester Holt rightfully should have William’s position: permanently Hopefully, Holt will hold the ratings, and NBC will have the decency to eventually do the right thing

  30. jason says:

    Good. Maybe the rest will get in trouble for the lies

  31. Ford Falcon says:

    If NBC believes that six months suspension will rehabilitate a proven serial liar, then Bernie Madoff has been in prison for years now – time to let him out to manage the NBC employees’ 401(k) plans and pension funds.

  32. Ford Falcon says:

    Brian Williams has been shown to be a proven serial liar, so in six months he’s somehow not going to be a proven serial liar anymore? What geniuses they have at NBC.

  33. 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.

  34. Bertle says:

    All the people calling for his firing would be the same ones yelling for people to be killed by the lions in the arenas of ancient Rome. They’ve been whipped into a frenzy by the right and social media and now want only blood. They worship the hypocrites and liars only if they spoon-feed them the lies they want to hear. “Freedom of the press is guaranteed only to those who own one.”

  35. Russell says:

    He’s done, 6 months is an eternity in network “news”. NBC should suspend Obama next, he’s a much bigger liar.

  36. equipmentguy says:

    Good! Bring on Lester and let’s move on, it’s only a guy reading a teleprompter anyways. Bye Brian, tough lesson you had to learn.

  37. Ruth Deutsch says:

    Let’s see what happens to the NBC Nightly News ratings with Brian gone. Will NBC have shot themselves in the foot? Time will tell.

  38. suzanne says:

    Brian Williams deserves a second chance. Don’t keep kicking the poor guy while he’s down he’s human as are the rest of us!! Look in the mirror at yourself before you judge other’s.

  39. Jamie says:

    I will not watch nightly news untill Brain comes back

  40. george says:

    “to be truthful and to uphold the high standards of the news division” LOL!

  41. Linda Moorehead says:

    This whole ordeal will be easily forgotten by the American viewing public. I, for one, love watching Brian Williams on NBC Nightly News. He will be greatly missed. I feel NBC has blown this out of proportion and needs to back peddle on the 6 month suspension. How about 6 month probation?

  42. Mitch says:

    Everyone stop. Take a deep cleansing breath in and exhale. Point the finger at your FREEKING SELVES AND JUDGE YOU FIRST.
    Get off social media and get a life. The trouble with our society is that people have heme so quick to judge others and demand this or that. Get a life and worry about what’s yours and stop this.
    I can’t wait until Brian Comes back.
    NBC News won’t be the same without him. He was one of the best thins going for Comcast, IMO.

  43. john tipton says:

    I think that all news stations should suspend their news anchors for the same thing, also it should be the producer and others to screen the news and make sure it is correct before airing. that would really change the news if that happened, maybe then the truth will be told.

  44. Steven O. says:

    There are no consequences for your actions in government and Hollywood. We need to end the culture of, “too big to fail.”

  45. Jim Herndon says:

    Lester Holt is a better newscaster than Williams anyway. As far as I know he is as honest as the day is long. I’ll be rooting for Lester to keep Williams’ job and want to see williams reporting live from the County Fair.

  46. Mark N says:

    “…bringing trusted, credible news to our audience”…At NBC? Toooo. Funny. NBC is one of the most biased and UN trustworthy news organizations around today. From the very top of the ivory tower there. What a riot.

  47. Angelface says:

    This is the second high administrated person which has shaken our faith in NBC News, remember when the good doctor ignored the law to stay in and not expose the people to a deadly disease but she disregarded the law and went to a restaurant?

  48. Disappointed says:

    I watch him every night. He is a human being and made some mistakes, I think he knows he did wrong but ultimately he is more than his mistakes. None of us would survive scrutiny like that, bring him back, bring him back, forgive and move on. Remember how you judge is how you will be judged.
    He has had much more positives in his career than negatives

    • cxg says:

      Thank you! It’s truly frightening how people are so quick to judge and crucify him.

    • Jim Herndon says:

      His suspension is much more lenient than others who have lost their careers for making innocent comments. We’ll see what kind of man he is by how he handles himself six months from now. I support giving him his second chance and hope he can recover from this by accepting his responsibility.

    • Mark N says:

      Disappointed…you’re part of what is wrong with America. It’s time to clean things up and getting rid of some that call themselves “journalists” is a great place to start.

  49. Lee Ann Hewuse says:

    Shame on “NBC” … I’m sure you have other things to do besides this ! Bring him back , he is the only reason that I watch the nightly news on your station –

  50. Tom Anderson says:

    How the heck do you get fired? This guy’s job is to be honest and trustworthy. He was neither on many occasions. He is a compulsive liar. If you are compulsive in doing something that is totally against what you are supposed to be doing, you get fired! But no, not in the liberal news media.

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