Brian Williams, the embattled NBC news anchor whose credibility plummeted after he acknowledged exaggerating his role in a helicopter incident in Iraq, was suspended for six months without pay, the network said Tuesday night.
Lester Holt will continue to substitute for Mr. Williams now, the network said. Holt’s experience and reputation is a bonus for NBC News, the organization tarnished in this Williams’ “conflation” blunder. Holt’s 15 years at NBC and 18 years at CBS are underscored by a wide respect he has earned for his low key, non-celebrity approach to being a solid career newsman. Okay, Lester does moonlight with a bass guitar from time to time:
“This was wrong and completely inappropriate for someone in Brian’s position,” Deborah Turness, the president of NBC News, said in an internal memo.
Meanwhile Williams, who at age 55 was the head of the highest-rated evening news show, and a frequent celebrity guest on entertainment shows and cheerleader for his own daughter’s racy HBO “Girls” career.
On his nightly newscast on Feb. 4, Williams copped to embellishing his account of being on a helicopter that was hit by enemy fire in 2003, and apologized to viewers for his fog of war memory.
What followed was a war of words from irate military veterans, media commentators and viewers who claimed he no longer had the gravitas to be a network news anchor.
Three days later he announced he was stepping aside temporarily from his show because he had become “too much a part of the news.” The news came after NBC started an investigation into Mr. Williams and his reporting from Iraq, Hurricane Katrina and any other news event that it deemed necessary to review.
Before this mess, Williams’ show was drawing over 9 million viewers a night and generating $200 million in annual advertising sales.
The military publication “Stars and Stripes” investigated claims Williams’s made that were proven to be inaccurate and contacted Williams, who admitted that he was not on the helicopter that was forced down. “I would not have chosen to make this mistake,” Mr. Williams told “Stars and Stripes.” “I don’t know what screwed up in my mind that caused me to conflate one aircraft with another.”