After the announcement yesterday that longtime NBC Nightly News host Brian Williams would move to MSNBC after his suspension ends (and Lester Holt will become the main NBC news anchor), Williams sat down with Matt Lauer for an in-depth mea culpa this morning. "It had to have been ego that made me think I had to be sharper, funnier, quicker than anybody else,'' he said as explanation. "This came from clearly a bad place, a bad urge inside me. This was clearly ego-driven, a desire to better my role in a story I was already in. That's what I've been tearing apart and unpacking and analyzing."
Watch the first part of the interview below:
Williams's career blew up earlier this year when it came out that he had falsely claimed for years that he had been in a helicopter hit by a grenade in 2003 during the Iraq war. He was suspended for six months, and his career looked like it was on death's door as more lies and embellishments were uncovered.
Williams says he's spent the last several months since his suspension agonizing over these mistakes: "It has been torture," Williams said. "Looking back, it has been absolutely necessary. I have discovered a lot of things. I have been listening to and watching what amounts to the black box recordings from my career. I've gone back through everything — basically 20 years of public utterances."
"I was reading these newspaper stories, not liking the person I was reading about, wanting — I would have given anything to get to the end of the story and have it be about someone else, but it was about me," he added. "These statements I made, I own this; I own up to this and I have to go through and see and try to figure out how it happened."
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Williams never directly says that he lied during the interview, but rather that he "said things that were wrong." He clarified the difference:
"I told the story correctly for years, before I told it incorrectly. I was not trying to mislead people, (and) that to me is a huge difference. 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.
Williams acknowledged that he tried to push for his old job back, but has now accepted the new role at MSNBC (which actually is kind of an old role, since he was an MSNBC anchor from 1996-2004). "I will work every day for it,'' he said of earning viewers' trust back. "I'll go person by person. All I can tell people is, 'Hold me to account. Judge me by as harsh a standard as you wish. Many already have. That's fair."
It's worth noting that NBC found that Williams's inaccurate statements "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." NBC likely encouraged Williams to raise his profile by appearing on talk shows.
It's also worth noting that the news anchor position remains an antiquated and somewhat silly relic of the early years of television. At press time, it is unclear whether the ghost of Tom Brokaw is still haunting Williams.