An event that happened 12 years ago has been under intense scrutiny during the last few days, as NBC Nightly News anchor Brian Williams admitted that his account of being struck by enemy RPG fire while in a helicopter during the 2003 Iraqi invasion was a mere exaggeration.
In an internal memo released by NBC, they announced that Williams has been suspended for six months without pay. The 55-year-old anchor will be replaced by Lester Holt, said the network. NBC Nightly News is the highest-rated evening news show, and has won many accolades, bringing Williams further into the mainstream.
After appearing at a New York Rangers game with an Iraqi veteran, military publication Stars and Stripes contacted Williams after getting a tip that his coverage was a lie.
“I don’t know what screwed up in my mind that caused me to conflate one aircraft with another,” Williams admitted to the publication.
Last February 4, Williams admitted that his 2003 account was embellished. The anchor had to apologize to his viewers for misleading them. “I made a mistake in recalling the events of 12 years ago,” said Williams. “I want to apologize, I said I was traveling in an aircraft that was hit by RPG fire, I was instead in a following aircraft.” Following his apology, many criticized Williams for not being truthful.
Media figures left and right have been vocal about the issue regarding Williams’ honesty. Howard Kurtz from Fox News believes that Williams’ credibility is now being jeopardized after telling false stories over the past few years. Brian Stelter said that the situation failed to pass the smell test. “How can anyone conflate being on a helicopter that did not take fire and being on a helicopter that did take fire?” Stelter asked.
Mediate founder Dan Abrams highlighted how Williams’ popularity also attributed to his downfall. Williams guesting in shows like Saturday Night Live and The Daily Show with Jon Stewart may have made him more known to the public, but it also left him more vulnerable to public scrutiny. “If this had all happened to Scott Pelley for example, this never would have received anything like this sort of attention,” Abrams said.
For his work in Nightly News, Williams rakes in more than 9 million viewers with every episode, generating more than $200 million in annual advertising sales. He received the anchoring job back in 2004 after his coverage of the Iraqi invasion. While more and more people are criticizing Williams, NBC’s decision to suspend him shows a step in the right direction.
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