The leave of absence, almost certainly encouraged and most-definitely embraced by his peers at the Peacock Network, comes days after the Stars & Stripes newspaper debunked a long-standing claim by Williams that he experienced enemy fire while embedded with a group of soldiers during Operation Iraqi Freedom in 2003.
In a 2008 blog post, Williams first claimed to have been in a helicopter brought down by a rocket-propelled grenade (RPG) during his time reporting on operations in Iraq. The story had been repeated numerous times by Williams and the network, the latest re-telling occurring in late January during a news feature in which Williams honored a war veteran at a hockey game.
It was only after the military newspaper Stars & Stripes began to question the story that Williams admitted details of his account had been inaccurate. Soldiers with the unit Williams claimed to have embedded with told the paper that the newsman was not in the helicopter struck by enemy fire, nor was he anywhere near two helicopters that followed it. Instead, the soldiers said Williams was in a different helicopter that arrived on the scene an hour after the incident.
On Wednesday, Williams apologized to viewers, saying details of his story had been inaccurate and that telling the story was “a mistake.”
The apology did little to drown out the noise of controversy propagated by other media outlets — most notably NBC’s direct competitors. Just before the weekend, several media outlets reported NBC had started the process of an internal investigation into Williams’ story.
On Saturday, Williams announced he would take a temporary leave of absence from his reporting duties, vowing to return within a few days. His full statement appears below:
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.
As Managing Editor of NBC Nightly News, I have decided to take myself off of my daily broadcast for the next several days, and Lester Holt has kindly agreed to sit in for me to allow us to adequately deal with this issue. Upon my return, I will continue my career-long effort to be worthy of the trust of those who place their trust in us.