NBC News president Deborah Turness informed staffers of the network’s decision at a meeting shortly after Williams’ fill-in, Lester Holt, finished anchoring Tuesday’s “NBC Nightly News.”
“The suspension will be without pay and is effective immediately,” Turness wrote. “We let Brian know of our decision earlier today. Lester Holt will continue to substitute Anchor the NBC Nightly News.”
The announcement follows a morning meeting between Williams and the CEO of NBCUniversal, Steve Burke, at Burke’s apartment.
Burke said in a statement on Tuesday night, “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.”
Burke added, “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.”
For NBC News, the rolling calamity began last last month when Williams paid tribute on his newscast to a soldier who had provided security to the anchor and his NBC crew in the desert on that day in 2003.
“The story actually started with a terrible moment a dozen years back during the invasion of Iraq when the helicopter we were traveling in was forced down after being hit by an R.P.G,” Williams said on-air. “Our traveling NBC News team was rescued, surrounded and kept alive by an armor mechanized platoon from the U.S. Army 3rd Infantry.”
After a video of the segment was posted by the network on Facebook, several soldiers called out Williams for stretching the truth.
Williams, it turned out, had not been on the helicopter that was hit by an R.P.G.
Williams apologized last Wednesday, both on Facebook and on “Nightly News,” but what he said raised more questions than answers, and the controversy swelled over the next three days.
As skepticism mounted over Williams’ claims about other reporting assignments — namely his coverage of Hurricane Katrina in 2005 — NBC News said Friday that it would conduct an internal investigation into the disputed accounts. Williams was once again in the anchor chair that night.
But on Saturday, Williams said he had become “too much a part of the news” and that he planned to step aside from the newscast for “the next several days.” Williams hunkered down even more on Sunday, canceling a scheduled appearance on the “Late Show with David Letterman.”
By Monday, his attorney was in crisis meetings at 30 Rockefeller Center, where Williams’ posters — celebrating his first-place status in the nightly news wars — hang on the walls.