Brian Williams suspended from NBC News for 6 months without pay

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Brian Williams suspended from NBC News for 6 months without pay

by: Patrick Dickson | .
Stars and Stripes | .
published: February 11, 2015

WASHINGTON — NBC has suspended Nightly News anchor Brian Williams for six months without pay for fabricating stories about his time in Iraq and elsewhere, the network announced late Tuesday.

"We have decided today to suspend Brian Williams as Managing Editor and Anchor of NBC Nightly News for six months," the president of NBC News, Deborah Turness, wrote to the staff. "Lester Holt will continue to substitute Anchor the NBC Nightly News."

The Iraq issue erupted online when Iraq veterans took umbrage at a news report in which Williams used a ceremony honoring a retired command sergeant major at a New York Rangers hockey game to repeat the story that his aircraft was forced down in Iraq.

Days later, Williams admitted the claim was false after Stars and Stripes reporter Travis J. Tritten contacted NBC News to ask for comment to statements by some servicemembers challenging the veteran anchor’s version.

But Williams’ apology, delivered on NBC Nightly News, failed to stem the criticism. He admitted his helicopter was not hit but claimed that he “was instead in a following aircraft” and said he had bungled the tribute to a veteran.

The apology was met with scorn and derision, particularly online, and deeper scrutiny followed.

NBC noted its review of Williams' reporting was ongoing.

"While on Nightly News on [Jan. 30], Brian misrepresented events which occurred while he was covering the Iraq War in 2003, Turness wrote in her memo to staff Tuesday. "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."

Days after his on-air apology, several news organizations reported that NBC News had launched an internal investigation into Williams’ reporting.

The next day, it was reported that Williams sent a note to the NBC News staff in which he wrote:

“[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.”

Soon, his recollections of Hurricane Katrina were called into question. He told anecdotes about his hotel being overrun by armed gangs and described seeing a body floating down the street from his hotel window in the French Quarter of New Orleans, which was not severely flooded.

He also told a story, also now in doubt, of being in an Israeli Black Hawk helicopter and watching Katyusha rockets pass underneath him. On The Daily Show, he concluded the story by telling Jon Stewart, “Any time you want to cross over to the other side, baby, travel with me.”

Williams did not say in his reports from Iraq in 2003 that his Chinook had been hit by ground fire.

But by 2013, he told Alec Baldwin on Baldwin's public radio show that “I had no business being in in Iraq with rounds coming into the airframe.”

When Baldwin asked whether Williams thought he would die, he replied, “Briefly, sure.”

Weeks later, he told David Letterman on air that “two of the four helicopters were hit, by ground fire, including the one I was in” — “No kidding!” Letterman interjects — [by] “uh, RPG and AK-47.”

When the hockey game report hit the air, some soldiers called him on it.

The claims bothered several soldiers aboard the formation of 159th Aviation Regiment Chinooks that were flying far ahead and did come under attack March 24, 2003, Tritten wrote.

One of the helicopters was hit by two rocket-propelled grenades — one did not detonate but passed through the airframe and rotor blades — as well as small-arms fire.

“It was something personal for us that was kind of life-changing for me. I know how lucky I was to survive it,” said Lance Reynolds, who was the flight engineer. “It felt like a personal experience that someone else wanted to participate in and didn’t deserve to participate in.”

Reynolds said Williams and the NBC cameramen arrived in a helicopter 30 to 60 minutes after his damaged Chinook made an emergency landing at an Iraqi airfield near Objective Rams, a temporary base being hastily set up near Najaf in southern Iraq.

Soon after the Stars and Stripes report, a media feeding frenzy began. Tritten appeared on several news shows as cable news followed up. Social media users mocked Williams mercilessly.

Reactions among the soldiers contacted again after the issue exploded were mixed. Some thought the record had been corrected and just wanted to move on. Others said the apology was half-hearted and perhaps forced on a man who never would have come forward otherwise.

dickson.patrick@stripes.com
Twitter: @StripesDCChief

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