Brian Williams has been suspended from "NBC Nightly News" without pay for six months, the network announced Tuesday.
The announcement comes amid an ongoing internal investigation into whether Williams exaggerated stories during his public appearances as managing editor of the top-rated evening news program, both on NBC and elsewhere.
Last week, the embattled anchor apologized after it was discovered he embellished events that occurred in 2003 while he was covering the war in Iraq. Subsequently, other stories, including his reporting from New Orleans during Hurricane Katrina, have come under intense scrutiny.
"Brian has a responsibility to be truthful and to uphold the high standards of the news division at all times," NBC News president Deborah Turness wrote in a memo to staffers.
Turness also defended not suspending Williams permanently.
"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," she wrote. "Millions of Americans have turned to him every day, and he has been an important and well-respected part of our organization."
Williams announced Saturday that he was taking a temporary leave of absence from the “Nightly News” broadcast for “several days.”
“In the midst of a career spent covering and consuming news, 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 memo to NBC staffers. “Upon my return, I will continue my career-long effort to be worthy of the trust of those who place their trust in us.”
Lester Holt, who has been filling in for Williams this week, will continue as the substitute anchor in Williams' absence.
In December, NBC signed Williams — who had recently celebrated his 10th anniversary as “Nightly News” anchor — to a new five-year contract worth a reported $10 million per year.
In a statement announcing his new contract, Turness called Williams "one of the most trusted journalists of our time."
Not anymore. According to the Celebrity DBI — an index cited by the New York Times — Williams was the 23rd-most-trusted person in the country before his apology. On Monday, Williams was ranked No. 835.
By comparison, "Daily Show" host Jon Stewart, who announced Tuesday he will leave the show later this year, was ranked No. 692. Fox News' Bill O'Reilly was ranked No. 3,021.
Below, Turness' full memo:
From: Deborah Turness (NBCUniversal)
Sent: Tuesday, February 10, 2015 7:47 PM
To: @NBC Uni NBC News All
Subject: Brian Williams
We have decided today to suspend Brian Williams as Managing Editor and Anchor of NBC Nightly News for six months. The suspension will be without pay and is effective immediately. We let Brian know of our decision earlier today. Lester Holt will continue to substitute Anchor the NBC Nightly News.
Our review, which is being led by Richard Esposito working closely with NBCUniversal General Counsel Kim Harris, is ongoing, but I think it is important to take you through our thought process in coming to this decision.
While on Nightly News on Friday, January 30, 2015, Brian misrepresented events which occurred while he was covering the Iraq War in 2003. It then became clear that on other occasions Brian had done the same while telling that story in other venues. This was wrong and completely inappropriate for someone in Brian’s position.
In addition, we have concerns about comments that occurred outside NBC News while Brian was talking about his experiences in the field.
As Managing Editor and Anchor of Nightly News, Brian has a responsibility to be truthful and to uphold the high standards of the news division at all times.
Steve Burke, Pat Fili and I came to this decision together. 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. Millions of Americans have turned to him every day, and he has been an important and well-respected part of our organization.
As I’m sure you understand, this was a very hard decision. Certainly there will be those who disagree. But we believe this suspension is the appropriate and proportionate action.
This has been a difficult time. But NBC News is bigger than this moment. You work so hard and dedicate yourselves each and every day to the important work of bringing trusted, credible news to our audience. Because of you, your loyalty, your dedication, NBC News is an organization we can — and should — all be proud of. We will get through this together.
Steve Burke asked me to share the following message.
“This has been a painful period for all concerned and we appreciate your patience while we gathered the available facts. 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.”