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Brian Williams Suspended For 6 Months Without Pay By NBC


NBC announced late today that it has suspended Brian Williams. The anchor and managing editor of the "NBC Nightly News" will be off the job for six months without pay. In less than one week, Williams has gone from apologizing for a misleading news report to being sidelined from the most watched evening newscast in the country. NPR media correspondent David Folkenflik has been covering this story for us, and he joins us now. And David, first briefly remind us how we got here.

DAVID FOLKENFLIK, BYLINE: Well, we got here originally through a January 30 broadcast in which Williams devoted a two-minute segment of what's essentially a 20-minute news hole in his newscast to an account celebrating an Army captain who he had said helped protect his life when his helicopter was shot down in Iraq during the invasion led by U.S. forces in March, 2003 - and in an incident in which his helicopter had been shot down by a rocket-propelled grenade. In fact, his helicopter was not hit by such fire, and Williams had said that in the newscast and then had been found subsequently to have said that in the past in other venues apart from NBC News. And critics said this really undermined the credibility of the lead anchor of NBC.

SIEGEL: Well, what does NBC News president Deborah Turness say in her announcement?

FOLKENFLIK: Well, tonight she issued a memo to staff which was also intended for a wider public audience saying that she, her boss - a woman named Pat Fili-Krushel - and that the CEO of the entire NBC network, Steve Burke, had decided together that Brian Williams had to step away. Burke issued some particularly tartly-worded criticism of Williams, saying that what he did was inexcusable and that he had really significantly damaged the trust that millions of Americans put in NBC News every night. But interestingly, Burke also sad that Williams deserves a second chance - that he had done so much for NBC over the decades of service to the network, and that he had expressed - Williams had expressed deep remorse to him, Burke, in a private meeting earlier today. So it seems as though the network is at least publicly saying there's a chance for Brian Williams, six months from now, to come back to the job even as there's an internal investigation going on.

SIEGEL: Yeah. On Friday, Turness announced that an internal team would review Williams' work. Does that continue despite the six-month suspension?

FOLKENFLIK: Absolutely. I think the way to look at this is at least an interim personnel decision rather than a journalistic conclusion. I think you're going to see that internal review play out. It's being led by Richard Esposito, a notable broadcast investigative reporter and producer. But nonetheless, the network has not fully promised to make public all of the information that he and his team turns up. Some of it is said to be being conducted on camera, which means that they are intending to present it to the public. But nonetheless, I think that there's both got to be an internal accounting for the degree to which Williams - he used the word conflated, but really, inflated his own wartime daring do and the degree to which this was a wider pattern or the degree to which this was an isolated case. I think that's going to dictate a lot about how the public and the network reacts to what Williams' ultimate fate is.

SIEGEL: Well, what do you think? A broadcaster's stock is his credibility. Can Brian Williams come back, do you think?

FOLKENFLIK: I think it's going to be very tough. I think if there's anything else turned up by this review that's of the same level of importance, it will be almost impossible for the network to bring him back. But they will also look closely. You know, Brian Williams had the most watched nightly newscast in the country. They'll look very closely at how Lester Holt fills in for him - how the ratings hold up. The ABC has been pitching a tight battle for ratings with "World News Tonight." And they're looking with one eye on journalistic principle, and the other on the ratings. It's a split-screen decision for them.

SIEGEL: That's NPR media correspondent David Folkenflik in New York. Thank you, David.

FOLKENFLIK: You bet. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.