Brian Williams Gets Suspended

NBC News president Deborah Turness announced the decision: Brian Williams will be suspended for six months. The suspension comes after a week of controversy about how Williams changed stories over time.

A New York Times article describes the decision-making process at NBC. Several people were consulted, including the highly respected Tom Brokaw, who was news anchor and managing editor before Williams took the position. The article is a window into corporate politics and decision making.

In an email to staff, Turness announced the suspension:

From: Deborah Turness (NBCUniversal)

Sent: Tuesday, February 10, 2015 7:47 PM

To: @NBC Uni NBC News All

Subject: Brian Williams


We have decided today to suspend Brian Williams as Managing Editor and Anchor of NBC Nightly News for six months. The suspension will be without pay and is effective immediately. We let Brian know of our decision earlier today. Lester Holt will continue to substitute Anchor the NBC Nightly News.

Our review, which is being led by Richard Esposito working closely with NBCUniversal General Counsel Kim Harris, is ongoing, but I think it is important to take you through our thought process in coming to this decision.

While on Nightly News on Friday, January 30, 2015, Brian misrepresented events which occurred while he was covering the Iraq War in 2003. It then became clear that on other occasions Brian had done the same while telling that story in other venues. This was wrong and completely inappropriate for someone in Brian's position.

In addition, we have concerns about comments that occurred outside NBC News while Brian was talking about his experiences in the field.

As Managing Editor and Anchor of Nightly News, Brian has a responsibility to be truthful and to uphold the high standards of the news division at all times.

Steve Burke, Pat Fili and I came to this decision together. We felt it would have been wrong to disregard the good work Brian has done and the special relationship he has forged with our viewers over 22 years. Millions of Americans have turned to him every day, and he has been an important and well-respected part of our organization.

As I'm sure you understand, this was a very hard decision. Certainly there will be those who disagree. But we believe this suspension is the appropriate and proportionate action.

This has been a difficult time. But NBC News is bigger than this moment. You work so hard and dedicate yourselves each and every day to the important work of bringing trusted, credible news to our audience. Because of you, your loyalty, your dedication, NBC News is an organization we can – and should - all be proud of. We will get through this together.

Steve Burke asked me to share the following message.

"This has been a painful period for all concerned and we appreciate your patience while we gathered the available facts. By his actions, Brian has jeopardized the trust millions of Americans place in NBC News. His actions are inexcusable and this suspension is severe and appropriate. Brian's life's work is delivering the news. I know Brian loves his country, NBC News and his colleagues. He deserves a second chance and we are rooting for him. Brian has shared his deep remorse with me and he is committed to winning back everyone's trust."


Discussion Starters:

  • Assess Turness' email. What is being said and what isn't? How is the email organized? What works well, and what doesn't?
  • Consider the quotation from Steve Burke, CEO and president of NBCUniversal. Does this belong?
  • Did Turness and the others make the right decision? Why or why not?