NBC News anchor Brian Williams spoke Friday for the first time since his suspension and demotion, saying “my ego got the better of me” when he told a false story on the “NBC Nightly News” about being forced down by enemy fire in a military helicopter during the 2003 U.S. invasion of Iraq.
Appearing in a taped interview on NBC’s “Today,” where he faced tough questioning from colleague Matt Lauer, Williams maintained that he did not intend to lie to viewers on Jan. 30 when he recounted traveling on a Chinook helicopter. Williams accurately reported that the aircraft had not been fired upon, before delivering the false account on “The Late Show With David Letterman” in 2013 and then on “NBC Nightly News,” ultimately leading to his major career stumble.
“I told the story correctly for years before I told it incorrectly,” he told Lauer. “I was not trying to mislead people. That to me is a huge difference here.”
When pressed by Lauer to explain if he knew he was telling a false story on the broadcast, Williams said: “This came clearly from a bad place, a bad urge inside me. This was clearly ego-driven – a desire to better my role in a story I was already in. That’s what I’ve been tearing apart and unpacking and analyzing.”
Williams has been serving a six-month suspension since Feb. 11 and ultimately lost his job as anchor of “NBC Nightly News.” He will return to NBC News in mid-August, in a new role where he will handle breaking news coverage on cable channel MSNBC.
Williams was contrite throughout the exchange, saying he used a double standard when it came to the truth once he left NBC News headquarters each night. “It had to have been ego that made me think I had to be sharper, funnier, quicker than anybody else,” he said.
Williams passed when Lauer asked him to cite other instances where he told stories that were not true. NBC’s statement Thursday announcing Williams’ departure from “NBC Nightly News” said there were a number of instances when Williams appeared on talk shows and other venues where he gave inaccurate accounts of his reporting from the field.
Williams declined to enumerate them, but acknowledged the anger and mistrust among colleagues and the public that resulted from his actions.
“I know why people feel the way they do,” he said. “I get this. I am responsible for this. I am sorry for what happened here. I am different as a result and I expect to be held to a different standard…What has happened in the past has been torn apart and identified by me and has been dealt with.”
Williams said he was resistant to giving up the anchor chair at “NBC Nightly News,” a job he held since December 2004, but is now grateful to be getting an opportunity to return to work at MSNBC. He also had praise for his successor, Lester Holt.