Brian Williams announced Saturday he’ll take himself off “Nightly News” for the next few days, vowing to return.
In a short statement, Williams wrote:
“In the midst of a career spent covering and consuming news, it has become painfully apparent to me that I am presently too much a part of the news, due to my actions. As Managing Editor of NBC Nightly News, I have decided to take myself off of my daily broadcast for the next several days, and Lester Holt has kindly agreed to sit in for me to allow us to adequately deal with this issue. Upon my return, I will continue my career-long effort to be worthy of the trust of those who place their trust in us.”
Williams’ stepping away from his evening news broadcast caps off a whirlwind week for the NBC News anchor.
After apologizing in an interview and on-air Wednesday for making a “mistake” about being on an Iraqi helicopter shot down by RPG fire in 2003 vs. being on the helicopter behind it, a media backlash ensued.
TV news covered one of its own at length, on CNN, Fox, and MSNBC. Digital media also had a field day, with pieces that equated Williams with war “chickenhawks” to another that went inside the science behind Williams’ “horrifying memory flub.”
And social media exploded, with #BrianWilliamsMisremembers becoming a trop trender on Twitter with users playing out historical events Williams might have confused.
Few media figures have defended Williams: The Baltimore Sun’s David Zurawik— not known for going for the jugular — called for Williams’ firing. Countless others, including Fox News’ Howard Kurtz, have suggested Williams’ repeatedly telling the false story over years leaves him in a very tough situation.
“This just does not pass the smell test,” Brian Stelter told Alisyn Camerota Thursday. “How can anyone conflate being on a helicopter that did not take fire and being on a helicopter that did take fire.” Stelter suggested the big question Williams didn’t address during his on-air apology was how far away he was from the helicopter that was shot down.
The backlash built to such levels, NBC News President Deborah Turness addressed it with staff Friday, telling them there is an internal investigation into Williams’ Iraq reporting, and results will be shared when gathered.
The veteran NBC News anchor has told the story of getting shot down by RPG fire several times over the years, including on David Letterman in 2013: “Two of our four helicopters were hit by ground fire, including the one I was in, RPG and AK47,” he told Letterman. “We figure out how to land safely…we landed very quickly and hard,” he continued.
Lester Holt will anchor “Nightly News” during Williams’ time off.