NEW YORK — NBC announced Tuesday that it is suspending Brian Williams as “Nightly News” anchor and managing editor for six months without pay for misleading the public about his experiences covering the Iraq War.
NBC chief executive Steve Burke said Williams’ actions were inexcusable and jeopardized the trust he has built up with viewers during his decade as the network’s lead anchor. But he said Williams deserved a second chance.
Williams apologized last week for saying he was in a helicopter that was hit by a grenade while covering the Iraq War in 2003. Instead, he was in a group of helicopters and another was hit, and some veterans involved in the mission called him out on it.
“Brian misrepresented events which occurred while he was covering the Iraq War in 2003,” NBC News President Deborah Turness said in a memo. “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 Lester Hold would continue to substitute for Williams as anchor.
She also said the network’s probe into Williams’ statements is continuing.
Shortly after it happened during a reporting trip to Iraq in 2003, Williams explained on NBC that one of a group of helicopters he had been flying with had been hit by a rocket-propelled grenade. When he appeared with Letterman a decade later, the story changed to where his helicopter had been hit, which Williams now admits is false. It wasn’t until he told the same story on “Nightly News” last month and veterans who had been there complained that the embellishment emerged.
In Israel in 2006, Williams explained to his news viewers that he’d been on an Israeli helicopter and saw a trail of smoke and dust where Hezbollah rockets had landed in the Israeli countryside, and described seeing rockets being launched six miles from his location.
The story became more dramatic when he appeared on “The Daily Show” a month later.
“Here’s a view of rockets I have never seen, passing underneath us, 1,500 feet beneath us,” Williams said. “And we’ve got the gunner doors on this thing, and I’m saying to the general, some four-star, ‘It wouldn’t take much for them to adjust the aim and try to do a ring toss right through our open doors, would it?’”
(An Israeli army official who traveled with Williams that day, Jacob Dallal, on Tuesday called the anchor’s account “generally reasonable.” He said it was fair to assume rockets flew beneath their helicopter).