Brian Williams Suspended For Six Months Without Pay Over Iraq Story

The NBC Nightly News anchor came under fire last week after U.S. military personnel questioned his story that he was aboard a downed helicopter.

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NBC Nightly News anchor Brian Williams will be suspended without pay for six months, the network announced Tuesday.

The suspension comes after Williams was caught “misremembering” — a word he used in a later apology — a story about coming under fire in a helicopter while reporting from Iraq in 2003.

NBC News President Deborah Turness issued a memo to staff about the suspension, calling Williams’ comments “wrong and completely inappropriate for someone in Brian’s position.” Turness also wrote that Williams’ “actions are inexcusable” but that he “deserves a second chance and we are rooting for him.”

Williams did not issue a statement Tuesday, but on Saturday told colleagues he was temporarily stepping down because it had “become painfully apparent to me that I am presently too much a part of the news, due to my actions.”

Lester Holt, who has been filling in as the anchor of NBC Nightly News, will continue in the role during Williams’ six-month suspension.

Williams has been telling the story about being shot down by an RPG for years, but recanted the tale after several service members challenged it last week.

Williams recanted the story on Feb. 4. Later that same day, he spent about a minute on-air apologizing for the story, saying he “bungled” it and that rather than being the helicopter that was shot down he was in a “following” craft.

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However, a handful of military personnel who were also there quickly came forward and said that Williams’ helicopter was part of an entirely different mission. Other stories Williams has told — including those of his time reporting on Hurricane Katrina — then also began drawing questions.

Williams told colleagues on Saturday that he would temporarily leave the anchor chair.

Read the full memo here:

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.

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Jim Dalrymple is a reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in Los Angeles.
Contact Jim Dalrymple II at jim.dalrymple@buzzfeed.com.
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