In his final broadcast as a part of NBC News, Brian Williams signed off on Thursday night with a message for viewers that, while occasionally heartfelt, was mostly an urgent warning about the future of American democracy.
Alluding to the rise in attacks on American institutions by right-wing extremists such as the Jan. 6 insurrection, Williams warned that the country has become “unrecognizable” and that powerful politicians have “decided to join the mob” and “burn it all down with us inside.”
Williams, who announced last month that he would depart NBC News after 28 years, began his final remarks on Thursday by asserting his apolitical bona fides and patriotism, insisting he is “not a liberal or a conservative — I’m an institutionalist,” and that his “biggest worry is for my country.” But, he continued, “the darkness at the edge of town has spread to the main roads and highways and neighborhoods,” which Williams said “must be acknowledged and answered for.”
Williams later thanked his colleagues, friends and family and compared himself to George Bailey from “It’s a Wonderful Life,” joking that he expected to wake up tomorrow in that film’s fictional town of Bedford Falls.
“The reality, though,” Williams added, “is I will wake up tomorrow in the America of the year 2021, a nation unrecognizable to those who came before us and fought to protect it. Which is what you must do now.“
Williams ended his remarks on a less dire note. “Every weeknight for decades, I’ve said some version of the same thing: Thank you for being here with us. Us, meaning the people who produce this broadcast for you, and you, well without you there is no us. I’ll show myself out. Until we meet again, that is our broadcast for this Thursday night. Thank you for being here with us. And for all my colleagues at the networks of NBC news, good night.”
Read his full final remarks below:
After 28 years of Peacock logos on much of what I own, it is my choice now to jump without a net into the great unknown. As I do for the first time in my 62 years, my biggest worry is for my country. The truth is I’m not a liberal or a conservative, I’m an institutionalist. I believe in this place and in my love of country I yield to no one.
But the darkness at the edge of town has spread to the main roads and highways and neighborhoods. It’s now at the local bar, and the bowling alley, at the school board and the grocery store. And it must be acknowledged and answered for.
Grown men and women who swore an oath to our constitution, elected by their constituents, possessing the kinds of college degrees I could only dream of, have decided to join the mob and become something they are not, while hoping we somehow forget who they were. They’ve decided to burn it all down with us inside.
That should scare you to no end as much as scares an aging volunteer fireman.
To my coworkers, my love and thanks. And I say again, everyone I’ve worked with has made me better at what I do. To my family, love and thanks doesn’t begin to cover it, but now I have the time to better express it. My friends know who they are, no one’s been blessed with better friends.
To the guests on this broadcast… it’s always been about you, otherwise I’d be staring into the camera for an hour 5 nights a week and nobody wants to see that. You are ‘The 11th hour,” and will continue to be “The 11th Hour.” This is where I thank you, however, for being so great, for explaining these last 5 years.
As a proud New Jersey native, this is where I get to say ‘regrets, I’ve had a few, then again too few to mention.’ What a ride it’s been. Where else, how else was a kid like me going to meet presidents, and kings, and the occasional rock star? These lovely testimonials, that I can never truly repay, make me hyper-aware that it has been, and remains a wonderful life. It’s as if I’m gonna wake up tomorrow morning in Bedford Falls.
The reality though is I will wake up tomorrow in the America of the year 2021, a nation unrecognizable to those who came before us and fought to protect it. Which is what you must do now.
My colleagues will take it from here. I will probably find it impossible to stay silent and stay away from you, and lights and cameras after I experiment with relaxation and find out what I’ve missed and what’s out there.
Every weeknight for decades I’ve said some version of the same thing: Thank you for being here with us. Us, meaning the people who produce this broadcast for you, and You, well without you there is no us. I’ll show myself out. Until we meet again, that is our broadcast for this Thursday night. Thank you for being here with us. And for all my colleagues at the networks of NBC news, good night.