After months of silence following revelations that he had peddled fabrications from the anchor chair of NBC Nightly News, Brian Williams on Thursday issued a statement that began: “I’m sorry.”
Williams’s statement was issued as the network announced he would not be returning to the helm of its nightly news program, where he once commanded 10 million viewers a night, more than any competitor. Williams’s fill-in, Lester Holt, will remain in the post, NBC said.
Williams moves to MSNBC, the network’s cable news outlet, where he will be “anchor of breaking news and special reports”, according to the NBC statement. He would also fill in for Holt, 56, “when Holt is not available”, the network said.
The news appeared to add a bumper stop to a spectacular skid by Williams, from the top position in broadcast news, as anchor of the most-watched nightly news program, to suspension and potential unemployment.
“Brian now has the chance to earn back everyone’s trust,” said Andrew Lack, chairman of NBC News and MSNBC, in a statement. “His excellent work over twenty-two years at NBC News has earned him that opportunity.”
Williams admitted error in his statement released Thursday. “I’m sorry,” he said. “I said things that weren’t true. I let down my NBC colleagues and our viewers, and I’m determined to earn back their trust.”
NBC planned to air a two-part interview with its fallen anchor, who once ranked among the most trusted figures in the country, on Friday.
The announcement of Williams’s return to the air followed an internal review that concluded the anchor had “made a number of inaccurate statements about his own role and experiences covering events in the field”, NBC said.
The anchor’s career collapsed after US soldiers challenged his on-air description of an experience in a combat zone in Iraq. The veterans said Williams had inaccurately placed himself at the center of the action. Similar charges were made about Williams’ reporting on Hurricane Katrina and other reporting.
Williams said Nightly News “will be in excellent hands with Lester Holt as anchor.”
“I will support him 100% as he has always supported me,” Williams’ statement said. “I am grateful for the chance to return to covering the news.”
In the most recent week for which ratings were measured, the nightly news program anchored by Holt narrowly edged its ABC News competitor for top-ranked broadcast, with almost 7.9 million viewers. CBS News’ program attracted about 6.5 million viewers.
“This is an enormous honor,” Holt said in a statement.