NEW YORK — Brian Williams, the popular NBC News anchor who became embroiled in controversy over false statements he made about his reporting, will no longer be the anchor of the network’s evening newscast and will be assigned to handling breaking news on cable network MSNBC, people familiar with the plan said Wednesday night.
Lester Holt, the veteran anchor who has fronted numerous programs on NBC and MSNBC since 2000, takes over the reins of “NBC Nightly News” after serving as Williams’ fill-in since the anchor was suspended in early February. Holt, 56, makes history by becoming the first solo African-American anchor of a nightly broadcast network evening newscast.
NBC is expected to announce the changes Thursday. An NBC News spokesman could not be reached for comment. The news that Williams’ fate has been decided was first reported by CNN.com
Williams was the principal anchor for MSNBC when it launched in 1994.
Although the cable network assignment for Williams would be a comedown and a compromise — the alternative was likely having to walk away from his $10 million-a-year contract — it will probably be positioned as a way to boost what has been a flagging venture at NBC News.
MSNBC has experienced double-digit-percent ratings declines this year. Although tarnished, Williams will bring some star power and new attention to the channel, which has tried in recent months to broaden beyond the progressive-leaning, opinion-driven talk it features throughout most of the day.
If Williams was to eventually take on a nightly prime-time program for MSNBC, his salary would not be out of line with what cable news stars earn. Fox News Channel star Bill O’Reilly reportedly earns about $17 million a year.
The announcement will end the stunning saga that began Jan. 30 when Williams delivered a report on “NBC Nightly News” meant to be a tribute to a retired military veteran who provided security to the anchor when he covered the U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003. In that report, Williams falsely stated he was aboard a Chinook helicopter that was forced down by grenade and small arms fire.
His original 2003 reporting on the incident correctly said it was another helicopter in the formation that was hit. But Williams misstated the facts of the incident on at least one other occasion, when he told the story during a 2013 appearance on “Late Show With David Letterman.”
The furor over the false statements opened the door to examinations into the veracity of Williams’ other reporting. When further questions were raised about Williams’ description of incidents he witnessed during his 2005 coverage of Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans, the news division decided to launch a review of the anchor’s work. On Feb. 7, he stepped away from the broadcast and by Feb. 11 was given a six-month suspension without pay.
Visit the Los Angeles Times at www.latimes.com