NEW YORK (Reuters) - Television newsman Brian Williams, who was suspended for fabricating a story about being on board a helicopter when it was attacked in Iraq, has been dropped as anchor of the top-rated NBC “Nightly News” program, the network said on Thursday.
Williams, 56, will join the network’s cable channel MSNBC as anchor of breaking news and special reports in mid-August.
Lester Holt, who has anchored the “Nightly News” show since Williams’ six-month suspension in February, will now be the permanent anchor of the Comcast Corp owned network’s flagship news program.
Until his suspension, Williams was among the most respected journalists in the country and had helmed “Nightly News” since 2004.
“Brian now has the chance to earn back everyone’s trust. His excellent work over 22 years at NBC News has earned him that opportunity,” Andrew Lack, chairman of NBC News and MSNBC, said in a statement.
Thursday’s announcement follows an internal review by NBC Universal and a lengthy period of negotiations with the Emmy-winning anchor, who was managing editor of “Nightly News” and one of NBC’s biggest names.
Williams came under scrutiny in January after telling different versions of a story about being aboard a U.S. military helicopter hit by a rocket-propelled grenade during the first days of the Iraq war in 2003.
He was suspended without pay after admitting that the story was not true.
“I‘m sorry. I said thing that weren’t true. I let down my NBC colleagues and our viewers and I‘m determined to earn back their trust,” Williams said in a statement on Thursday.
He added that he will miss working with the team at “Nightly News” but knew it was in good hands with Holt.
The extensive review covered Williams’ work over a period of more than 10 years in the field and during public appearances.
NBC said it had found that Williams “made a number of inaccurate statements about his own role and experiences covering events in the field.” The network did not give details but said the inaccuracies occurred mainly during public appearances by Williams and on late-night television programs, and usually years after the events.
Lack praised Holt, also 56, for his work helming the “Nightly News” under what he described as “very tough circumstances.”
“He’s an exceptional anchor who goes straight to the heart of every story,” he said. “In many ways, television news stands at a crossroads, and Lester is the perfect person to meet the moment.”
Holt, a news reporter with 34 years of experience, joined NBC in 2000 and became the full-time anchor of “Weekend Nightly News” in 2007. He also will be first African-American to be the solo anchor of a broadcast network’s flagship newscast.
Additional reporting by Anya George Tharakan in Bengaluru; Editing by Andrew Hay