Brian Williams, the man who misremembered getting shot out of the sky, is embarking on one of America’s most time-honored pastimes: the apology tour.
Once an anchor who could count himself among the most-trusted, highest-viewed, best-compensated newsmen in the business, Williams plummeted from grace this February, when flight engineer Lance Reynolds, who really did come under RPG fire while flying in a helicopter, publicly called out Williams for claiming to have been on the same aircraft. (“Sorry dude, I don’t remember you being on my aircraft. I do remember you walking up about an hour after we had landed to ask me what had happened.”)
Stars and Stripes picked up the story, and the rest is recent history: as #BrianWilliamsMisremembers trended on Twitter, other reports of Williams exaggerating his proximity to and involvement in other dramatic events, and Williams was suspended from NBC for six months without pay as the broadcaster conducted an internal investigation into Williams’ reporting.
On Thursday, NBC announced that Williams would return to the airwaves, but not as the anchor of NBC Nightly News — his substitute, Lestor Holt, will stick around, becoming the first African-American to serve as the lone anchor of a weekday evening newscast — and not at the same pay grade. While Williams’ old contract, signed in December, reportedly netted him at least $10 million a year over the next five years, his new gig, as an anchor of breaking news and special reports at MSNBC, comes with a “substantial” pay cut, a source told the New York Times. (For everyone playing along at home, we are just over four months in to what was to be a half-year-long suspension; Williams doesn’t start his new job until mid-August.)
But before Williams can sit behind a desk again, before he is allowed into the homes of Americans each night, he must repent. Such is the pop culture law of the land: our public figures may regain the places they once held in our hearts. But not without an apology tour.
Williams kicked off the remorse rounds in private, meeting with NBC News staff on Thursday in both Washington, D.C. and New York. His first public effort at atonement came this morning on the Today show, in a nationally televised interview with another sometime 30 Rock guest star, Matt Lauer. The interviews took place over the course of two days, and Lauer assures us in the intro that there were “no conditions or guidelines placed on this interview.” ALL BETS ARE OFF.
Here, in this free-range, say what you will, here’s-your-moment-go-ahead-say-sorry Q&A;, are all the ways in which Brian Williams non-apologized for his actions:
• “I had to go through and see and try to figure out: how did this happen?”
• “It is clear, after work… I used a double-standard. Something changed. I was sloppier. I said things that weren’t true. That’s plain.”
• “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.”
• “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.
• “Why is it that when we try to say, ‘I’m sorry,’ we can’t come out and say, ‘I’m sorry’?” (Excellent question, glad you asked!)
•When asked, repeatedly, if he was aware that his stories were untrue, Williams doubles down on his assertion that what he did does not amount to lying. “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.”
• Lauer, maybe on the verge of shouting, “I worry as you say this, Brian, that people who are going to listen to your apology… are going to say, ‘He’s still saying he didn’t intend to mislead people, and yet he didn’t tell the truth, and he had to know as the guy who lived through those experiences that it was the truth.’” Williams’ reply: “I see how people would say that. I understand it. This came from, clearly, 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. That’s what I’ve been tearing apart and unpacking and analyzing.”
• Lauer also asked, point-blank, if it ever occurred to Williams to just go on the air and say, “I lied. I’m sorry.” Williams said no: “I know why people would see it that way. It’s not what happened. What happened is, the fault of a whole host of other sins. What happened is part of my ego getting the better of me… That’s the process here.”
• Would the outcome have been any different, Lauer asked, if Williams had gone that route? Maybe this whole thing could’ve been resolved more quickly? “Perhaps,” Williams said. “I said things that were wrong… It wasn’t from a place where I was trying to use my job and title to mislead.”
• Lauer gave Williams, who has kept using the plural “stories” instead of “story” to refer to his on-air inaccuracies, to address any other false tales he may have told in his years on the air. “People are not going to let this just rest,” Lauer said. “Would you like to that this opportunity to now to correct the record [on anything else]?”
• Williams’ response is just: “What has happened in the past has been identified and torn apart by me and has been fixed, has been dealt with.” Not totally sure that this is what the people wanted to hear, but, okay. “I’m repsonsible for this. I am sorry for what happened here. I am different as a result. And I expect to be held to a different standard.”
Watch the full interview below: