By Gabrielle Beacken
One of America’s most famous and admired TV journalists, Brian Williams, anchor and managing editor of “NBC Nightly News,” has been suspended for six months without pay due to the recent discovery of his false account about being in a U.S. military helicopter that was shot down by enemy forces in Iraq.
“We believe this suspension is the appropriate and proportionate action,” said NBC News President Deborah Turness in a USA Today article. “This was a very hard decision.”
It started with what seemed an honorable gesture — taking a brave and appreciated Iraq veteran to a New York Rangers ice hockey game. Alongside this game invitation, Williams personally thanked veteran Command Sergeant Major Tim Terpak for ensuring the safety of himself and his team in 2003 while on a U.S. military helicopter that was forced down by enemy fire.
After Williams’s 2015 segment about the inflated 2003 Iraq account, military veterans came forward asserting that Williams’s account was false because he was never actually in the aircraft that was shot down.
“The admission raises serious questions about his credibility in a business that values that quality above all else,” said Fox News analyst Howard Kurtz in a New York Times article.
The issue became a frenzy on social media after Williams apologized on the air, on Wednesday, Feb. 4, saying that he was in the aircraft behind the one shot down and “conflated” the two helicopters, the Times reported.
According to the Times, Williams received widespread criticism and ridicule for his apology on Twitter with the hashtag “#BrianWilliamsMisremembers.”
“My inbox is filled today with producers who went to Iraq with me, to Afghanistan with me, to Haiti with me, all kind of wondering how you could mess this up,” said former CNN anchor Aaron Brown in a Times article. “I have no answer for that. I will tell you that getting shot at is not something you forget.”
Williams gained the trust of Americans, as his “Nightly News” show brought in 9.3 million viewers a night — an impressive number, according to a Times article.
In a USA Today article, broadcast journalism professor at the University of Maryland, Mark Feldstein, questioned whether or not Williams can retain his credibility upon his six-month return.
The embellishments in Williams’s story has had millions of Americans questioning the integrity of his past reports, as well as the ethics at NBC news. NBC has initiated an investigation into Williams and his past news accounts. The investigation is still continuing, according to NBC News.
NBC is hoping that a six-month leave will be a sufficient cooling-off period for the network, according to Feldstein.
“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,” Turness said in a USA Today article.
NBCUniversal CEO Steve Burke urged the millions of “Nightly News” fans to forgive Williams.
“He deserves a second chance, and we are rooting for him,” Burke said, according to USA Today. “Brian has shared his deep remorse with me and he is committed to winning back everyone’s trust.”
While Williams is on leave, journalist Lester Holt will fill in on “Nightly News” until his return.