Brian Douglas Williams
(born May 5, 1959) is an American journalist at MSNBC
, formerly serving as the NBC News network's chief anchor of NBC Nightly News
, former reporter, and now demoted to host of its cable weeknight news program, The 11th Hour with Brian Williams
From 2004 to 2015, he was the anchor
and managing editor of NBC Nightly News
, the evening news program on NBC
In 2005, NBC News was awarded the Peabody Award
for its coverage of Hurricane Katrina
, and Williams accepted the award on behalf of the organization.
In February 2015, Williams was suspended for six months from NBC Nightly News
for "misrepresent[ing] events which occurred while he was covering the Iraq War in 2003
and on June 18, 2015, he was demoted to breaking news anchor for MSNBC
Born on May 5, 1959, in Ridgewood, New Jersey
Williams was raised in a "boisterous" Catholic home, of largely Irish descent.
He is the son of Dorothy May (née Pampel) and Gordon Lewis Williams, who was an executive vice president of the National Retail Merchants Association, in New York.
His mother was an amateur stage actress.
Williams is the youngest of four siblings.
Williams graduated from Mater Dei High School
, a Roman Catholic high school in the New Monmouth
section of Middletown.
While in high school, he was a volunteer firefighter
for three years at the Middletown Township Fire Department. Also while in high school, he was the editorial editor for the school newspaper.
He suffered an accident during a football game that left him with a crooked nose.
His first job was as a busboy at Perkins
Williams first worked in broadcasting in 1981 at KOAM-TV
in Pittsburg, Kansas
. The following year he covered news in the Washington, D.C., area at then-independent station WTTG
, then worked in Philadelphia for WCAU
, then owned and operated by CBS.
Beginning in 1987 he broadcast in New York City at WCBS
Williams joined NBC News in 1993, where he anchored the national Weekend Nightly News
and was chief White House correspondent.
In the summer of 1996 he began serving as anchor and managing editor of The News with Brian Williams
, broadcast on MSNBC
Williams also served as primary substitute anchor on The NBC Nightly News with Tom Brokaw
, and its weekend anchor.
Rise and Ouster at NBC Nightly News
Williams became anchor of NBC Nightly News
on December 2, 2004, replacing the retiring Tom Brokaw. His coverage of Hurricane Katrina
was widely praised, particularly "for venting his anger and frustration over the government's failure to act quickly to help the victims."
The network was awarded a Peabody
, the committee concluding that "... Williams, and the entire staff of NBC Nightly News exemplified the highest levels of journalistic excellence." NBC Nightly News
also earned the George Polk Award
and the duPont-Columbia University Award
for its Katrina coverage. Vanity Fair
called Williams' work on Katrina "Murrow-worthy" and reported that during the hurricane, he became "a nation's anchor". The New York Times
characterized Williams' reporting of the hurricane as "a defining moment".
In 2007, Time
magazine named Williams one of the 100 most influential people in the world.
Williams interviewing presidential candidate Mitt Romney
, July 25, 2012
Based on the Nielsen ratings
, from late 2008 Williams' news broadcast consistently had more viewers than its two main rivals, ABC
's World News Tonight
and CBS Evening News
In fact, from late 2008 to late 2014, NBC Nightly News
beat the other two network programs in the Nielsen ratings all but one week.
In February 2015, Williams was suspended for six months from the broadcast for misrepresenting his experience in the 2003 invasion of Iraq
At the time, his salary was $10 million a year,
with a five-year contract signed in December 2014.
Rock Center with Brian Williams
On October 4, 2011, it was announced that Williams would be the host of Rock Center with Brian Williams
, a news magazine program premiering on October 31, 2011, at 10:00 pm Eastern, replacing the canceled drama series The Playboy Club
NBC cancelled Rock Center
on May 10, 2013, due to low ratings; the network was also having trouble finding a permanent time slot for the program. The last show aired on June 21, 2013.
Williams reportedly felt "insulted" by the program's cancellation.
Iraq War helicopter lie
Williams aboard the amphibious assault ship USS Tarawa
in the Persian Gulf, March 13, 2003
On February 4, 2015, Williams apologized for and recanted his disproven Iraq War
story, which he had told on a Nightly News
broadcast on January 30, 2015. He claimed that a military helicopter
he was traveling in had been "forced down after being hit by an RPG
Soon after it aired, Williams' story was criticized by Lance Reynolds, a flight engineer on board one of the three Chinook helicopters
that had been attacked.
Reynolds and other crew members said Williams had been aboard one of a separate group of helicopters from the helicopter that had been fired upon, which was flying about half an hour behind and was forced to make an emergency landing because of a sandstorm rather than an attack.
Additional soldiers soon came forward both to confirm that Williams was not in the group of helicopters one of which had come under fire, and to express their hurt that Williams had inserted himself into the event.
In his original on-air reporting of the incident on March 26, 2003, for Dateline NBC
, Williams had said only that "the Chinook ahead of us was almost blown out of the sky ... by an RPG" and made an emergency landing. But in introducing the piece, NBC News anchor Tom Brokaw
described Williams as having "got [him]self into ... a close call in the skies over Iraq",
and the story was headlined, "Target Iraq: Helicopter NBC's Brian Williams Was Riding In Comes Under Fire".
A book published by NBC in 2003 said that "Army Chinook helicopters [were] forced to make a desert landing after being attacked by Iraqi Fedayeen", with Williams aboard.
In a 2007 retelling, Williams did not state that his craft had been hit, but said: "I looked down the tube of an RPG that had been fired at us, and it hit the chopper in front of us." This contradicted the statements by the crew of the craft that was hit, that it was at least 30 minutes ahead of Williams' helicopter. However, the soldiers who piloted Williams' helicopter in Iraq said no rocket-propelled grenades had been fired at the aircraft, a fact that Williams did not dispute and apologized for.
In a 2013 account, Williams said his helicopter had been "hit ... and landed very quickly".
In a February 5, 2015 interview with CNN, the pilot (Alejandro Xirau) of the Chinook in which Williams was traveling said that while the aircraft did not sustain RPG fire, it did indeed sustain small-arms fire and the door gunners returned fire.
On February 10, 2015, NBC News President Deborah Turness
suspended Williams without pay for six months from his position as Managing Editor and Anchor of the Nightly News
for having misrepresented the Iraq incident.
On June 18, 2015, he was demoted to breaking news anchor for MSNBC
Journalist Malcolm Gladwell
reexamined the story in a podcast episode entitled "Free Brian Williams" from his Revisionist History
podcast. Gladwell argued that the evolving versions of Williams' story over many years matched the normal pattern of how human memory works. Over time, people conflate and combine different memories, shift times and locations, and misremember details large and small.
Williams frequently appeared on The Daily Show
as a celebrity guest interviewed by Jon Stewart
and in 2007, made regular cameos as a giant head sidekick looking on Jon Stewart and helping out with pronunciations of foreign names and occasionally other foreign affairs all beginning at the premiere of the new Daily Show
set. He appeared on the Weekend Update
segment of Saturday Night Live
on the season 32 premiere hosted by Dane Cook
and then hosted a season 33 episode on November 3, 2007. With this episode, Williams was the first, and so far only, sitting network news anchor to host SNL
Williams appeared on Sesame Street
in a 2007 episode, announcing the word of the day, "squid," in a special broadcast. Williams appeared on Sesame Street
again in a 2008 episode, reporting for Sesame Street Nightly News
about the "mine-itis" outbreak, becoming a victim. He was also the host of the 2009 Annual Sesame Workshop Benefit Gala.
On February 22, 2010, while covering the Winter Olympics, Williams did a skit with Brian Williams
, the Canadian sportscaster of CTV Sports
, on the CTV Olympic set.
Some in the media dubbed this the new "Battle of the Brians
," as NBC's Williams compared his own modest set to CTV's expensive Olympic studio.
Williams regularly appeared on Late Night with Jimmy Fallon
, where he slow jams
the news of the previous week as Fallon sings and reiterates what Williams says, with The Roots
providing the musical backing. A mash-up video created by Fallon, where Williams appears to rap
to hip-hop instrumentals, became popular within a few hours.
Williams has also made numerous appearances on Late Show with David Letterman
. During an appearance on July 26, 2011, he demonstrated a skilled vocal impersonation of TV personality Regis Philbin
. He has also appeared on Late Night with Conan O'Brien
, where he took part in numerous skits and interviews.
... And then I pull off my mask, and I'm a lizard person, too. Blackout. End of episode.
Williams made frequent guest appearances on NBC's television comedy 30 Rock
, as a caricatured version of himself. In the episode "The Ones
", he is seen at home receiving proposition calls meant for Tracy Jordan. In "Audition Day
", he auditions to be a new TGS cast member. He also is seen once on the show taunting Tina Fey's character, Liz Lemon
. In April 2012, on the West Coast installment of the 30 Rock
season 6 live show, Williams portrayed a news anchor covering the Apollo 13 story.
Williams also collaborated on the Encyclopedia of world history from Backpack Books published in 2003.
Williams has written for publications including The New York Times
The Iraq War controversy prompted greater scrutiny of several earlier statements made by Williams, including some he made regarding Hurricane Katrina and its aftermath.
For example, Williams referred inconsistently to a suicide inside the New Orleans Superdome
CNN reported in a 2005 television documentary that Williams said he was not a witness to the suicide: "We heard the story of a man killing himself, falling from the upper deck."
In a 2014 interview, however, Williams said, "We watched, all of us watched, as one man committed suicide."
Appearing on The Daily Show
in August 2006, he told host Jon Stewart
that he was nearly hit the previous month by Katyusha rockets
fired from Lebanon
while flying in an Israeli Air Force
(IAF) Black Hawk
helicopter: "Here's a view of rockets I have never seen, passing underneath us, 1,500 feet beneath us. And we've got the gunner doors on this thing, and I'm saying to the general, some four-star
: 'It wouldn't take much for them to adjust the aim and try to do a ring toss right through our open doors, would it?' Anytime you want to cross over to the other side, baby, travel with me."
In another version of the same story, related by Williams during an interview conducted at Fairfield University
a year later, he claimed that the rockets passed "just underneath the helicopter I was riding in."
The claim was drawn into question since there are no four-star generals in the Israel Defense Forces
(IDF), Israeli helicopter doors are routinely closed during flights and the IAF's Black Hawks do not carry gunners.
An IDF spokesman who was on the helicopter in question did confirm afterwards that there was Katyusha fire and, although the helicopter was not in danger, the "trajectory of the rockets was beneath us."
A reference to the fall of the Berlin Wall
also received scrutiny. In 2008, Williams said he was "at the Brandenburg Gate
the night the wall came down", while CBS
and other sources report that he did not arrive until the next day.
"The night the wall came down" is widely recognized as November 9, 1989, according to a CNN report.
Williams joked in 2014 that he was upset Tom Brokaw
had arrived first, adding that "by the second night of the story, we were all there."
Another statement by Williams, this one regarding the Navy SEALs
, also received attention. Williams said he flew into Baghdad with SEAL Team Six
, but Special Operations Command spokesman Ken McGraw stated the SEALs do not embed journalists.
On June 19, 2015, his suspension drawing to a close, Williams gave another apology and an account about his role in news going forward in an exclusive interview with Matt Lauer
on the Today Show
With his wife, Jane, in 2009
Actress Allison Williams
is their daughter. The Williams' son, Doug, is the late-night anchor of Geico SportsNite
on SportsNet New York
, a regional sports channel available in the New York metropolitan area. Doug Williams' program occasionally airs at the same time as his father's MSNBC program.
Brian Williams was named "Father of the Year" in 1996 by the National Father's Day Committee.
Williams was a member of the board of directors of the Congressional Medal of Honor Foundation from September 2006 until resigning in the wake of the scandal over his Iraq War comments.
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Last edited on 2 May 2021, at 18:16
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