Ousted NBC anchor Brian Williams began his apology tour on Friday, saying on the “Today” show that he “got it wrong” when he told exaggerated stories about his reporting but declining to say he lied.
In his first public comments since being suspended by NBC in February, Williams told co-host Matt Lauer that “what has happened in the past has been identified and torn apart by me and has been examined to death by me. I’m responsible for this and I’m sorry.”
But under prodding by Lauer, Williams would not admit that his serial exaggerations constituted lying. Instead, he said, it was “my ego getting the better of me” and “came from a bad place inside me” when he told stories about himself that were “wrong.”
NBC on Thursday said Williams would return to the air, but not on “NBC Nightly News,” which Williams has led as anchor and managing editor for the past 11 years. Instead, he has been reassigned to MSNBC, the network’s little-watched cable channel, and will serve in a vaguely defined role as a breaking-news anchor.
Williams, 56, was suspended by NBC for six months in February after he said on “Nightly News” that the military helicopter he was traveling in at the start of the Iraq War in 2003 was damaged by rocket fire. In fact, it had not been, and Williams was taken to task by American veterans who were eyewitnesses to the events Williams described.
The episode triggered an explosion of reporting about Williams’s characterizations of his other reporting exploits. News articles turned up multiple instances in which he exaggerated or embellished his role. The stories involved Williams’s descriptions of his experiences covering Hurricane Katrina in 2005, the Israeli-Lebanese conflict in 2006 and the Arab Spring in Egypt in 2011, among others.
But Williams and Lauer only discussed the Iraq episode during their interview, the first in a series NBC will air as Williams attempts to regain his credibility. Williams has not given any interviews to any outlet outside of his own network.
That was in keeping with NBC’s own limited disclosures about Williams; the network has steadfastly declined to spell out which statements made by Williams over the years have been untrue.
In a press release announcing Williams’s return to the air on Thursday, it said only that some of his comments, made primarily on late-night TV shows, have been “inaccurate.” The network spent several months investigating Williams and compiled a lengthy file and video of his misstatements.
In the “Today” interview, Williams came closest to conceding he lied when he told Lauer, “I said things that were not true.” He blamed “a sloppy choice of words” and said some events “got turned around” in his mind.
He added, “I got it wrong. I own this and I own up to this.”
In a second part of the interview aired on “Today,” a visibly sweating Williams said the headline on his story should be, “A chastened and grateful man, mindful of his blessings (and) mindful of his mistakes, returns, hoping for forgiveness and acceptance.”