Brian Williams Tells Matt Lauer, "I Own Up To This"
The recently demoted former 'NBC Nightly News' anchor spoke out for the first time since he was suspended, after he was found to have told a false account of a 2003 incident in Iraq.
Brian Williams has broken his silence less than five months after he was suspended from his role as NBC Nightly News anchor after it emerged that his account of an incident that happened during a 2003 trip to Iraq wasn't true.
Speaking with Matt Lauer in an interview that aired on Friday's Today, Williams again apologized for saying "things that weren't true," but he continued to insist he didn't knowingly lie.
"I told stories that were not true. I never intended to. It got mixed up. It got turned around in my mind," Williams told Lauer. Still, the disgraced NBC News veteran took responsibility for what he said, telling the Today co-anchor, "I own this. I own up to this."
Williams characterized his suspension as "torture." But he said, "looking back it has been absolutely necessary," explaining that he had gone over everything he said over his more-than-20-year career, to "try to figure out how it happened" that he said things that weren't true and vowed that he has changed.
"What has happened in the past has been identified and torn apart by me and has been fixed, has been dealt with," Williams said. "Going forward, there are going to be different rules of the road ... I am different as a result, and I expect to be held to a different standard."
Williams explained that he believed he "used a double-standard" and "was sloppier" when he talked about his own experiences in talk-show appearances and other forums in which NBC News' investigation found that he "made a number of inaccurate statements about his own role and experiences covering events in the field...usually years after the news events in question."
"Looking back, it had to have been ego that made me think I had to be sharper, funnier, quicker than anybody else, put myself closer to the action, having been at the action at the beginning," Williams said of his "realization" about "what changed" in how he told his stories. "It wasn't from a place where I was trying to use my job and title to mislead."
When asked specifically if he knew when he said on NBC Nightly News that his story that the Chinook helicopter that he was riding in was hit by enemy fire that that story wasn't true, Williams said "no." But he did concede that "perhaps, yes" the outcome of this incident might have been different if he'd gone on the air and admitted he lied right after he made those inaccurate statements.
Williams' comments come just a day after NBC News announced that he will remain with the division but not return as Nightly News anchor when his six-month, unpaid suspension ends in August. Instead, Williams will join MSNBC as an anchor on breaking news and special reports, with Lester Holt named as the permanent weeknight anchor on Nightly News.
In a second part of the interview, which aired later on the NBC morning show, Williams admitted he wasn't happy about not being able to return as Nightly News anchor.
"Was it my first choice? No. Obviously I wanted to return to my old job," Williams said. "I pushed back at first. Enough time has passed. I accept the decision," he added before praising his successor, Holt.
"No one is more deserving," Williams said of Holt. "This guy came in under the worst circumstances and has upheld everything great about the place and the broadcast. It's Lester's job."
Williams was said to have expressed a strong desire to regain his Nightly News position over nearly four months of negotiations between his team and NBCUniversal executives.
Williams also vowed he will "work everyday" to regain viewers' trust, telling the audience, "Judge me by as harsh a standard as you wish."
"I am fully aware of the second chance I've been given," he said. "I don't intend to squander it."
When asked to write the headline for his story, Williams said, "A chastened and grateful man, mindful of his blessings, mindful of his mistakes, returns, hoping for forgiveness and acceptance."
NBC News chairman Andy Lack is said to have pushed Lauer to interview Williams and convinced Williams to sit for the interview, during which, Lauer said Friday, there were "no conditions or guidelines."
Thursday's announcement about Williams' new role teased Lauer's interview with him, taped over two days earlier this week. Portions of the sit-down will also air on Friday's Nightly News.