NBC news anchor, Brian Williams, has been suspended by the network for 6 months without pay. This comes after it came to light that a story he had been telling, about being on a helicopter that came under fire by a rocket-propelled grenade, was not true. In actuality, Williams was on another chopper, that followed about an hour behind. Military personnel who were present at the event, which took place in 2003, called the news anchor out on his claims.
NBC News president Deborah Turness sent out the following email to media:
“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.”
“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.”
Six months is a long time. NBC not only wants the public to know they mean business, but may want an extended period of time to make sure there are no other fabricated stories floating around out there. His lies were so weird, because, according to reports, he initially recounted the story truthfully, but it sounds like the story acquired layers of embellishment as the years wore on.
We all have that friend or family member that can spin a great yarn. In my experience, there are great storytellers who are more focused on entertaining than getting every detail right. The Iraq story may have gotten away from Williams the more he told it. He may not have made a conscious decision to deceive. But for a news anchor, any tall tales need to be confined to the individual’s inner circle. Viewers expect truth and honesty from the person who delivers their news every night. Honesty is part of the brand. By meting out such a hard sentence, NBC is also protecting that brand. If William’s misstep turns out to be an isolated incident, he’ll be back. But now that he’s a known fabricator, there is an army of researchers combing through his interviews, looking for the slightest discrepancy. I won’t be surprised if more is uncovered, as telling exaggerated or fabricated stories is usually a chronic behavior.