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NBC suspends Brian Williams for six months without pay

NBC executives announced yesterday that Brian Williams is suspended without pay effective immediately pending an internal investigation into Mr. Williams’ reporting after he admitted to misrepresenting the facts on a story he covered during the Iraq war in 2003.

Deborah Turness, the president of NBC News, first broke the news to her staff in a memo, where she said that Mr. Williams’ action “was wrong and completely inappropriate.” (See full statement below.)

NBCUniversal CEO, Steve Burke, called Mr. Williams’ misrepresentation “inexcusable” and said that the “suspension is severe and appropriate.” He also said that Mr. Williams expressed “deep remorse” for the incident and that he is “committed to winning back everyone’s trust.”

On Saturday, Mr. Williams said he was taking himself off the air for “several days” and hinted at a comeback. NBC had not officially commented on the issue until now.

Mr. Williams came under scrutiny after airing a segment on the Nightly News broadcast of January 30, where he claimed a chopper he and his crew were riding in while covering the war in Iraq in 2003 was hit by rocket-propelled grenades (RPGs).

After the military newspaper, Stars and Stripes, called the veracity of Mr. Williams story into question, Mr. Williams apologized for his mistake saying that he was not “traveling in the chopper that was hit but that he was “instead in a following aircraft” and that he had “conflated” the two.

NBC’s investigation will look into other reports by Mr. Williams that have raised eyebrows, including some claims he made during his coverage of Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans back in 2005.

Here is NBC News President Deborah Turness’ full statement to staffers:


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.

Steve Burke asked me to share the following message:

“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.”


The Verdict

While the media has mainly focused on whether Williams can survive the controversy and whether NBC will be able to keep their leadership in the prime time news ratings and the corresponding top advertising dollars that come with it, I would like to highlight the precision of NBC’s crisis response and the eloquence of Ms. Turness’ statement.

Her memo was sincere and to the point. After defending Mr. Williams’ suspension as both “appropriate and proportionate,” she highlights her staff’s dedication to “bringing trusted, credible news to our audience,” which Mr. Williams disrespected through his actions.

After all, despite the heartbreak and disappointment that must be widespread through the NBC’s Nightly News staff, Ms. Turness must restore her employees’  morale as the show must go on.

NBC had been silent since the controversy broke and I believe that even though they took their time to respond, NBC’s execs got it right.

As for Mr. Williams, I don’t think he can survive the backlash from this controversy and restore his credibility nor can he remain relevant after a six-month hiatus.

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