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NBC News Anchor Williams, Facing Internal Probe, Temporarily Off Air

  • VOA News

FILE - Brian Williams, U.S. journalist.

FILE - Brian Williams, U.S. journalist.

Television news anchor Brian Williams, facing an internal NBC investigation for embellishing an Iraq war story, said over the weekend that he would be removing himself from the evening newscast for several days.

Williams’ action was also in response to intense criticism by war veterans and other journalists last week regarding his apology, in which he said he misremembered the details of the story.

"It has become painfully apparent to me that I am presently too much a part of the news, due to my actions," Williams said in a statement posted on NBC's website.

During the U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003, Williams reported that a Chinook flying ahead of his was "almost blown out of the sky," but his story has gradually changed. The controversy erupted after he recently repeated a different version of the story on television, claiming that he was in a helicopter hit by a rocket-propelled grenade while in Iraq.

Williams admitted last week that the story was inaccurate. But his apology, in which he said he misremembered the incident, provoked widespread derision.

Military personnel who were present at the time and other journalists have called for his resignation.

Hurricane Katrina coverage

Williams is also facing scrutiny over his statements about covering Hurricane Katrina in 2005. Among his assertions, he said he saw a body float by the Ritz Carlton hotel in the French Quarter, the historic district of New Orleans, where he stayed and that he got dysentery from the flood water.

In announcing his decision to take himself temporarily off the air, Williams said, "As managing editor of NBC Nightly News, I have decided to take myself off of my daily broadcast for the next several days, and [weekend anchor] Lester Holt has kindly agreed to sit in for me to allow us to adequately deal with this issue."

A hugely respected journalist in the United States, Williams, 55, is a former chief White House correspondent. Since 2004, he has anchored NBC Nightly News, which has received high ratings.

Williams said he planned eventually to return to the broadcast and "continue my career-long effort to be worthy of the trust of those who place their trust in us."

However, NBC News refused to comment Saturday on when or whether Williams would return and who would decide his future.

Paul Levinson, professor of communications and media studies at Fordham University, called Williams' time off a good idea for him and NBC News.

“It gives him a chance to catch his breath and, on a human level, it must be excruciating to get on the air and report the news and not say anything about this,” Levinson told The Associated Press.

'Is he telling the truth?'

NBC News, he said, “wants to be in the business of reporting on the news, and not have people thinking, ‘is he telling the truth?’”

Rich Hanley, director of the graduate journalism program at Quinnipiac University, also lauded Williams' leave.

"This was a good move by Williams and the network to remove him from the air until a decision is reached on his future," Hanley told Reuters.

Nightly News has reigned as the top-rated evening newscast over its competition on CBS and ABC.

Williams' importance to NBC News goes beyond his anchor status, said Al Tompkins, a faculty member for broadcast and online at The Poynter Institute, a journalism think tank.

“He sets the tone of the network. It may not be as critical as when (Walter) Cronkite was CBS' anchor, in every way, but he is more than a face,” he said to AP.

Williams' absence itself is a delicate challenge, Tompkins said.

“He can't be gone long. The timing will be critical -- too short and it won't seem like he has taken himself out of the game long enough, and too long and he looks like damaged goods,” he said.

Some material for this report came from Reuters, AP and AFP.

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