UPDATED with Brian Williams interview on Nightly News: NBC News tonight re-ran Brian Williams’ interview with Matt Lauer that first aired on Today this morning. Gone is the highly flammable opening comment about the past five months having been “torture” for him (you can still see it in the video above).
Now the shorter interview starts with Williams answering this morning’s second question, saying about the past five months: “It has been a time of realization, trying to find out, in me, what changed. In our work I have always treated words very carefully; that’s the coin of our realm, that’s our tool, it’s the key to our credibility and our integrity. But, Matt, it is clear that after work when I got out of the building, when I got out of that realm, I used a double standard. Something changed, and I was sloppier, and I said things that are not true. Looking back, that’s plain.”
This played much better and should have been how the morning’s version started, if the point of the pretaped/conducted-by-an-NBC News staffer interview really was to begin Williams’ road to redemption. He returns to work in mid-August, on MSNBC – and on NBC covering breaking news events when newly named permanent Nightly News anchor Lester Holt is not available.
The new video-airbrushed opening is followed, as was this morning’s take, by Lauer wondering if Williams did not realize when he appeared on late-night shows or some other program he took with him the responsibility of being Nightly News’ anchor and managing editor. In his response, Williams acknowledged that 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 in the beginning.” Then, as with this morning’s version, Williams noted, when asked if he knew not to be true the account of his chopper ride during the Iraq War given on Nightly News on January 30: “I told the story correctly for years, before I told it incorrectly. I was not trying to mislead people. That to me is a huge difference here.”
This morning: Brian Williams still insists he was not trying to mislead people when he told his viewers he had been in a helicopter that got hit by a rocket propelled grenade during the Iraq war, on Nightly News last January. It was that report, challenged by soldiers on the franchise’s Facebook post, that got him suspended in early February as NBC News investigated it and other claims of exaggeration and misleading statements over the years about his reporting for the division.
“I told the story correctly for years before I told it incorrectly,” Williams told Matt Lauer on Today show this morning, in an interview Lauer said had “no restrictions.”
“I was not trying to mislead people. That to me is a huge difference here,” Williams continued. “After that incident I tried and failed, as others have tried and failed –why is it when trying to say ‘I’m sorry’ that we can’t come out and say ‘I’m sorry’?”
Matt looked very dubious and said, “I need to make sure I understand” he said (never a good start to a follow-up question if you’re on the receiving end). “Did you know when you went on Nightly News you were telling a story that was not true?”
“No,” Williams insisted. “It came from a bad place. It came from a sloppy choice of words. I told stories that were not true over the years, looking back. It is very clear. I never intended to. It got mixed up, it got turned around in my mind.”
“In our work I have always treated words very carefully,” Williams said. “That is the coin of our realm. That’s our tool. It is the key to our credibility. And our integrity. But, Matt, it is clear that, after work, when I got out of the building, when I got out of that realm, I used a double standard. Something changed and I was sloppier and I said things that weren’t true. Looking back that’s plain.”
Lauer pointedly asked Williams, like he meant it to sting, whether he realized that his title and the responsibility of Nightly News anchor and managing editor traveled with him out of the building?
“Looking back it had to have been ego that made me think I had to be sharper, funnier, quicker than anybody else – to put myself closer to the action having been at the action in the beginning,” Williams replied, dodging the question.
NBC announced yesterday Williams would return to the air in August, reassigned to MSNBC, and Nightly News fill-in anchor Holt had been named anchor of the newscast. Williams also will serve as a “breaking news anchor for NBC News live special reports when Holt is not available.”
“It has been torture,” Williams this morning said of the past five months. “Looking back, it has been absolutely necessary… I have been listening to, and watching, what amount to the black-box recordings from my career.”
The network said Williams, who’d barely been seen in public since stepping away from the anchor chair he’d held since 2004, had taped this interview, answering the question as to how Williams would begin performing the stations of the cross before returning to air. That interview also will air on Nightly News.
NBCU suspended Williams for six months without pay back in February, for having falsely claimed in a recent Nightly News broadcast that he was riding in a military helicopter hit by a rocket-propelled grenade in Iraq in March 2003 – a claim Williams previously had made on Late Show With David Letterman.
”The statements in question did not for the most part occur on NBC News platforms or in the immediate aftermath of the news events, but rather on late-night programs and during public appearances, usually years after the news events in question,” the company said, by way of explaining why it was giving Williams another chance.
“I’m sorry. I said things that weren’t true. I let down my NBC colleagues and our viewers, and I’m determined to earn back their trust,” Williams had said yesterday in a stunning written apology in the network’s announcement, adding, “I will greatly miss working with the team on Nightly News, but I know the broadcast will be in excellent hands with Lester Holt as anchor.
This morning’s interview — no so much.
When Lauer wondered if, after the Nightly broadcast, Williams had given a thought to going back on the program to say “I lied,” the de-anchored Williams insisted stoutly, “I know why people would see it that way. It’s not what happened.”
“What happened is the fault of a whole host of other sins,” he said. “What happened is clearly part of my ego getting better of me – to put self in better light, to appear better than I was…I said things that were wrong. I got it wrong. I own this and I own up to this.”
And, when asked if he’d like to take the opportunity to tick off the other things he’d exaggerated over the years, per the NBC News investigation, Williams declined. “What happened in past has been identified and torn apart by me and has been fixed and has been dealt with,” Williams said, evasively.
“I know why people feel the way they do. I get this. I’m responsible for this,” Williams said. “I am sorry for what happened here. I am different as a result and I expect to be held to a different standard.”