The Slatest

NBC News Suspends Brian Williams for Six Months Without Pay for Truthiness

Brian Williams speaks at the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America Annual Heroes Gala in 2010.

Photo by Joe Kohen/Getty Images for IAVA

NBC News had a bit of an existential drama brewing in its newsroom with anchor Brian Williams’ apparent fondness for truthiness, rather than the good, old-fashioned truth. The truth looks particularly good on a news anchor, no matter how dashing.

Williams’ problems started with his foggy recollection of whether the helicopter he was traveling in was, or was not, hit by an RPG while he was on assignment covering the war in Iraq in 2003. When it turned out that wasn’t—strictly-speaking—“the truth,” Williams admitted his error, and (sort of) corrected it. Williams gave himself the hook temporarily from his nightly broadcast; NBC promised to investigate.

After a days-long (!) investigation, the National Broadcasting Corporation decided Williams should keep his job—but will receive a six-month suspension from the anchor chair without pay. Here’s what NBC News President Deborah Turness had to say in a memo about Williams’ punishment on Tuesday evening:

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.”