In his first interview since being suspended as anchor of “NBC Nightly News,” Brian Williams told Matt Lauer on NBC’s “Today” show Friday that the past five months have been “torture.”
Although he acknowledged that he “told stories that were wrong,” and even admitted he “said things that weren’t true,” in a somewhat labored exchange he firmly resisted admitting that he lied.
“Did you know when you went on the ‘Nightly News’ that you were telling a story that was not true?” Lauer pressed.
“No. It came from a bad place. It came from a sloppy choice of words,” Williams said. “I told stories that were not true … I never intended to … It got mixed up it got turned around in my mind.”
Williams was suspended when it emerged that he had erroneously claimed being aboard a chopper that had been shot down in Iraq.
“But was it conscious, Brian?” Lauer asked. “Did you know it was not true?”
“I was not trying to mislead people,” Williams said. “That, to me, is a huge difference here.”
When Lauer raised concern that viewers may interpret Williams’ apology and most recent commentary on the situation as more of the same excuses he has made in the past, making it hard for them to consider Williams anything but a liar, the anchor said he understands “why people would say that.”
Lauer asked if Williams felt that a half-hearted apology, delivered several days after the controversial chopper claims, would have been better received if the then-anchor had acknowledged that he lied. “Did you give thought at the time to going on the air and saying, ‘I lied?’”
“I know why people would see it that way. It’s not what happened. What happened is the fault of a whole host of other things. What happened is clearly the fault of my ego getting the better of me,” Williams responded.
“It had to have been ego that made me think I had to be sharper, funnier, quicker than anybody else,” he added.
On Thursday, NBC announced that Williams would be replaced as permanent anchor by Lester Holt, who has been filling in during Williams’ absence. Meanwhile, Williams will take on other responsibilities at MSNBC.
Lauer, clearly sensitive to criticism that an NBC in-house interview might be less than probing, said that he and Williams had both agreed that no conditions or guidelines would be placed on this interview.
Williams said of his suspension: “Looking back, it has been absolutely necessary … I have been listening to and watching what amounts to the black box recordings from my career. I’ve gone back through everything — basically 20 years of public utterances.”
“This has been fixed and dealt with by me,” he added. “There will be new rules of the road.”