Brian Williams admitted he followed a “double standard” and “told stories that were not true” in an interview aired this morning with NBC’s Matt Lauer. He repeatedly blamed his ego for the fabrications and exaggerations.
“Looking back, 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,” Williams said.
As has been much reported, Williams was pulled off air in February after veterans called him out for falsely saying he was on a helicopter in Iraq that was shot down by an RPG. He was on the helicopter following the shot helicopter. Yesterday, NBC News announced that after Williams’ suspension ends, he will be moved to MSNBC, and Lester Holt, who has been filling in for Williams since February, will be promoted to the permanent Nightly News anchor.
Williams says he can “understand” why people wouldn’t believe his claim that he didn’t knowingly fabricate. “This came clearly from a bad place, a bad urge inside me. This was clearly ego driven, the desire to better my role in a story I was already in.”
“I said things that were wrong. I told stories that were wrong. It wasn’t from a place where I was trying to use my job and title to mislead. These were…in some cases years after the event and in many different areas, live discussions, talk shows, discussions with students. I got it wrong.”
Lauer asked Williams what stories were false outside of the helicopter story, if he knew about the results of the investigation into him, and if he would correct those stories now. But Williams wouldn’t say. Instead, he said
“What has happened in the past has been identified and torn apart by me and has been fixed, has been dealt with, and going forward there are going to be different rules of the road. I know why people feel the way they do, I get this, I’m responsible for this. I am sorry for what happened here. I am different as a result and expect to be held to a different standard.”
Williams claimed that he didn’t know that the false story about the helicopter was false when he said it. “It came from a bad place, it came from a sloppy choice of words. I told stories that were not true…I never intended to. It got mixed up, it got turned around in my mind.”
“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. After that incident I tried and failed…to say I’m sorry.”
Regarding his unpaid six-month suspension from NBC News, which ends in August, Williams called it “torture.”
“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,” Williams said. He said he reviewed all his clips because “I was reading these newspaper stories not liking the person I was reading about.”
“These statements I made, I own this, I own up to this, and I had to go through and see and try and figure out how it happened,” Williams said.
“It has been a time of realization, trying to find out in me what changed. You know in our work, I have always treated words very carefully. That’s the coin of our realm, it’s our tool, it’s our 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 said, “there would be no conditions or guidelines” for the interview, which took place over two days.
UPDATED: 6/19/2015 12:06 PM EST with more information