Top US television anchor Brian Williams said Saturday he was taking himself off the air for “several days” as he faces an internal investigation for embellishing an Iraq war story.
Williams, 55, who reportedly earns $10 million a year and is watched by an estimated nine million Americans each night, admitted earlier this week that a story he has repeated on air about coming under fire was not true.
“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 note posted on NBC’s website.
“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,” he added.
“Upon my return, I will continue my career-long effort to be worthy of the trust of those who place their trust in us,” he said, without specifying when he will be back on the air.
On Friday, NBC launched an internal investigation about Williams’s claims that he came under fire in a helicopter in 2003, amid criticism from troops who were present at the time.
His on-air apology on Wednesday further fanned the flames, with critics refusing to accept Williams simply made an honest mistake.
The embellished tale dates back at least to an interview with US chat show king David Letterman in 2013.
Fox News reported Saturday that NBC was not conducting a formal internal investigation into Williams and instead had launched a “journalistic fact-gathering” mission to better understand the situation.
Citing a source close to the story, Fox News confirmed Williams had made the decision to leave on his own accord and was not pressured by his network to do so.
The same source said a report detailing Williams’s conduct was not expected to be released after the fact-finding mission.
The embattled anchor is scheduled to appear on Letterman’s “Late Show” on Thursday.
– ‘Almost blown out of the sky’ –
At the time of the incident in 2003, Williams said it was the Chinook ahead that was “almost blown out of the sky,” but his story has gradually changed.
The controversy erupted after he recently repeated a different version of the story on television, claiming his own helicopter came under fire. He made the comments in an elaborate tribute to a retired soldier who helped provide ground security for the grounded aircraft and crew.
Crew members of the Chinook helicopter and Williams’s aircraft told Stars and Stripes, a US publication that covers the armed forces, that the anchor had been nowhere near the helicopter that was fired upon or other Chinooks in its formation.
He instead arrived later in a separate helicopter, which landed due to an oncoming sandstorm.
Now, Williams faces further scrutiny for his coverage of Hurricane Katrina in 2005 over an account that he saw a body float face down in the French Quarter, the historic district of New Orleans.
A hugely respected journalist in the United States, Williams is a former chief White House correspondent and has anchored “NBC Nightly News” since 2004.
In December, he renewed his contract with NBC for five years.
He has collected more than two dozen industry awards during his journalism career.