NEW YORK (Reuters) - NBC News anchor Brian Williams said on Saturday he was taking himself off the evening newscast for several days, responding to intense criticism over his claims that he rode in a helicopter that was hit by a rocket-propelled grenade in Iraq a decade ago.
“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 statement posted on NBC News’ website.
Williams, a star anchor who has garnered high ratings for NBC, said he planned eventually to return to the broadcast and “continue my career-long effort to be worthy of the trust of those who place their trust in us.”
Lester Holt, who typically anchors NBC Evening News on weekends, will step in to handle the weekday evening broadcast in the interim, Williams said.
NBC, a unit of Comcast Corp, on Friday said it was launching an internal probe of Williams’ false statements that he was in a helicopter in 2003 that was brought down by enemy fire during the U.S. invasion of Iraq.
Williams, who over the years had repeated his tale of being aboard a military helicopter during a harrowing forced landing, admitted this week that the story was inaccurate.
But his apology - in which he said he misremembered the incident - provoked widespread derision, and both military personnel and other journalists have called for his resignation.
Media observers said Williams had no choice but to take a break from the anchor’s chair.
“This was a good move by Williams and the network to remove him from the air until a decision is reached on his future,” said Richard Hanley, director of the graduate program in journalism at Quinnipiac University, in Hamden, Connecticut.
“It would be difficult for the audience to pay attention to what he’s reading in terms of the news when the perception is all about this scandal,” he said.
The controversy has embroiled NBC’s news division as it battles other networks for ratings on nightly news broadcasts.
Williams is also facing scrutiny over his statements about covering Hurricane Katrina in 2005, including assertions he saw a body float by the Ritz Carlton hotel in New Orleans where he stayed and that he got dysentery from the flood water.
Reporting by Christian Plumb and Victoria Cavaliere; Editing by Dan Grebler