‘Owns up’ to mistakes: Brian Williams Today
Published: June 19, 2015
‘Owns up’ to mistakes: Brian Williams Today, Four months after he was suspended from his NBC anchor chair, Brian Williams sat down with his colleague Matt Lauer, Friday and admitted that he “said things that weren’t true.” Williams’s return to the public eye follows months of rumors about his fate and marks the beginning of a new chapter in the rise, fall, and rise again of one of America’s most famous journalists.
The interview, taped over two days, aired in part on the Today show. “It has been torture,” Williams said of his period away from work. “Looking back, it has been absolutely necessary. I have discovered a lot of things. 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.”
It all started in February when soldiers questioned Williams’s claims about his proximity to danger while covering the Iraq war. That controversy snowballed: it became clear that Williams had fabricated or embellished multiple stories about his reporting, from the post-Hurricane Katrina streets of New Orleans to the battlefields of America’s wars in the Middle East.
Williams maintained that he “never intended to” lie, and that he did not realize that he was lying when he spoke about the helicopter ride. Lauer pushed him on the point, and Williams said that the lies “came from a bad place, a bad urge inside me.”
“Looking back, it had to have been ego that made me think I had to be sharper, funnier, quicker than anybody else,” Williams said of his habit of stretching the truth about his own experiences. “Put myself closer to the action, having been at the action at the beginning.”
Though Lauer asked Williams to detail the other cases in an NBC investigation into his record found discrepancies, Williams demurred. “I would like to say that what has happened in the past has been identified and torn apart by me, and it has been fixed,” he said. “[It] has been dealt with. And, going forward, there are going to be different rules of the road. I know why people feel the way they do. I get this. I am responsible for this. I’m sorry for what happened here. I am different as a result.”
It appears that the storm has finally, for Williams, begun to clear. It was announced on Thursday that Williams would join MSNBC as a breaking-news anchor. Lester Holt, who was called up to fill Williams’s NBC Nightly News anchor seat, will retain that job.
That means a big pay cut for Williams, who had been awarded a $10 million-per-year contract in December. Sources told The New York Times, Williams will be making “substantially less” at MSNBC. Holt, accordingly, is reportedly getting a raise. He’s also the first black solo anchor of a weekday nightly newscast in the history of America’s major cable networks.
NBC’s investigative journalism department dug into both Williams’s reporting and his public comments about his reporting. In a press release sent on Thursday, the company wrote, “The extensive review found that Williams made a number of inaccurate statements about his own role and experiences covering events in the field.”
“The statements in question did not for the most part occur on NBC News platforms or in the immediate aftermath of the news events, but rather on late-night programs and during public appearances, usually years after the news events in question,” the statement continued.
“Brian now has the chance to earn back everyone’s trust,” said Andrew Lack, the chairman of NBC News and MSNBC. “His excellent work over 22 years at NBC News has earned him that opportunity.”
“I’m sorry. I said things that weren’t true,” Williams said. “I let down my NBC colleagues and our viewers, and I’m determined to earn back their trust.”
In an analysis for the Times, Jonathan Mahler raised some concerns about the company’s handling of the Williams saga:
Do the tall tales that Mr. Williams told about his time in a war zone-and, apparently, about a number of other stories he covered-make him fundamentally untrustworthy, and thus unfit to report the news? If they don’t, why not put him back in the job that he did so well and so successfully? If they do, why is it O.K. for him to land at MSNBC? Are its standards of truth somehow lower?
There are other questions as well. Will audiences react favorably to Williams’s return on-screen? Will his colleagues-who have been whispering criticism to journalists for months-welcome him back into a newsroom? Exactly what other lies did the NBC investigation into Williams’s behavior uncover? Why haven’t viewers been told which other lies Williams told? What does the company mean, when it says, that Williams’s false statements occurred outside of his time in the anchor’s chair, “for the most part”? Do a critical percentage of cable-news viewers even care about Williams’s transgressions?
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