The NBC Nightly News is taking a giant hit from the Brian Williams scandal, losing 700,000 viewers after the show’s anchor started a suspension for some false statements about past reporting.
As fill-in anchor Lestor Holt started subbing for Williams, viewers turned away from the show in hoards, and at a time that is traditionally most competitive for network newscasts. Last week, the NBC Nightly News averaged 9.4 million viewers, down from 10.1 million the previous week.
Analysts say it is a giant blow to NBC.
“If you look at year over year, this makes NBC look really bad,” ratings analyst Andrew Tyndall told the New York Post. “NBC had the Olympics last year, and they always get a boost.”
Brian Williams was suspended after he admitted to lying about being in a helicopter that was forced down after being hit with enemy fire in Iraq. Williams later admitted that he was in another helicopter.
NBC is standing by the popular anchor to the point, with NBC Universal CEO Steve Burke saying he deserves a “second chance.”
“This has been a painful period for all concerned and we appreciate your patience while we gathered the available facts,” Burke said in a statement.
“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.”
But the trouble may not be over for Brian Williams. Some of his other reporting has come into question, including claims that he traveled in Iraq with the famed SEAL Team 6. In 2011, shortly after the team successfully carried out a mission to kill Osama bin Laden, Williams remarked that he had spent time with the team.
“Now, people might be hearing about SEAL Team 6. I happen to have the great honor of flying into Baghdad with them at the start of the war,” Williams reported.
But military officials dispute his claim.
“We do not embed journalists with that unit or any other unit that conducts counterterrorism missions. Bottom line — no,” said Special Operations Command spokesman Ken McGraw told CNN.
Some believe that the Brian Williams scandal isn’t the only factor in NBC Nightly News. Tyndall pointed out that the show was already losing ground to competitors even before the scandal broke.