Born on May 5, 1959, in Elmira, New York, Brian Williams began his broadcasting career in Kansas before eventually getting hired by WCBS-TV in New York City. While at WCBS, Williams won his first of many Emmy Awards, for his report on the stock market collapse. Soon after, he earned a spot at NBC News, where he climbed the ranks to serve as anchor and managing editor of NBC Nightly News, the network's flagship evening-news program. He has earned an array of journalism awards and has branched out into mainstream entertainment as well, but he faced a huge media firestorm when it was revealed that he had made false statements about being in a helicopter that was shot down in Iraq. Williams was suspended from Nightly News in February 2015. In June 2015, it was announced that Williams would be removed from Nightly News and join MSNBC as an anchor of breaking news and special reports.
Background and Early Career
Future news anchor Brian Williams was born on May 5, 1959, in Elmira, New York, the surprise fourth and final child to parents who were entering middle age. Raised in Middletown, New Jersey, Williams attended the Catholic University of America and George Washington University. Williams never graduated from college, however, choosing instead to enter the workforce. Some of Williams's earliest jobs included working as a volunteer firefighter and serving as an intern in the administration of President Jimmy Carter. In 1981, he began his broadcasting career in Pittsburg, Kansas, and in 1987 he was hired by WCBS-TV in New York City. While at WCBS, Williams won his first of many Emmy Awards, for his report on the stock market collapse.
NBC News Anchor
In 1993, Williams earned a spot at NBC News, where he climbed the ranks from White House correspondent to CNBC and MSNBC anchor for the program The News with Brian Williams, which debuted in 1996. Next, in December 2004, Williams became anchor and managing editor of the network's flagship evening news program, NBC Nightly News, which had been helmed by Tom Brokaw for the previous 23 years.
Though in the past Williams had been criticized for being stiff and lacking charisma, his critically acclaimed coverage of Hurricane Katrina in August 2005 improved his public image considerably, as he arrived in New Orleans before the storm and then remained in the beleaguered city to handle the reporting. Over the years, Williams has also been a force in national politics, as seen with his coverage of presidential elections and the moderation of eight presidential debates. He has won a wide array of awards, including a George Foster Peabody, and has received an honorary doctorate from Ohio State University.
In October 2011, Williams added another project to his plate, serving as anchor to the prime-time news magazine Rock Center with Brian Williams, whose correspondents included Ann Curry, Matt Lauer and Chelsea Clinton, among others. After having its airtime schedule bounced around, the show was eventually canceled in 2013 due to low ratings.
While Williams is generally known for his broadcast work, he's entered into the world of general entertainment and comedy as well, making appearances on Jon Stewart’s The Daily Show as well as on Late Night with Jimmy Fallon, with a recurring "Slow Jammin' the News" segment on the latter. Williams has hosted Saturday Night Live (making history in 2007 as the first network news anchor to do so) and had also requested to be considered as a potential successor to Jay Leno on The Tonight Show, though station executives ultimately frowned upon the idea. In 2009 Williams launched BriTunes, an online series that profiled musicians.
Major Controversy and Suspension
In March 2013, as a guest on David Letterman's show, Williams spoke of his experiences in Iraq in 2003, stating that he was in a helicopter that was hit by a rocket-propelled grenade and forced down. Later Williams made the same comment in a podcast hosted by Alec Baldwin.
Then, in early 2015, an announcer at a New York hockey game referred to the story in tribute to a military officer Williams had brought to the game as his guest. But on Facebook, another soldier who was part of the team in the downed aircraft said he didn’t remember Williams being on board, and the military publication Stars and Stripes picked up the story. On February 4, 2015, Williams acknowledged in a Facebook post that he had been mistaken. Two days later on Nightly News Williams again admitted that he had conflated the facts and had in fact been on board a following helicopter, apologizing for his previous statement. A news and social-media firestorm immediately ensued, and it was soon revealed that over the years Williams had made contradictory comments about the incident.
On February 7, 2015, Williams announced that, due to the controversy, he would take a brief leave of absence from Nightly News, with Lester Holt serving as substitute anchor. However, on February 10 it was revealed that Williams would be suspended from NBC News for six months without pay, despite the fact that he had reportedly just signed a multi-year, multi-million-dollar contract in December. After an NBC investigation of the controversy, it was announced that Williams would be removed from Nightly News and replaced by Lester Holt as anchor. Williams will join MSNBC as anchor of breaking news and special reports in mid-August and appear on NBC when Holt is unavailable.
Williams said in a statement: “I’m sorry. I said things that weren’t true. I let down my NBC colleagues and our viewers, and I’m determined to earn back their trust. I will greatly miss working with the team on Nightly News, but I know the broadcast will be in excellent hands with Lester Holt as anchor. I will support him 100 percent as he has always supported me. I am grateful for the chance to return to covering the news. My new role will allow me to focus on important issues and events in our country and around the world, and I look forward to it.”
In 1986, Williams married freelance television producer Jane Stoddard, with the couple going on to have two children, one of whom is actress Allison Williams of HBO’s Girls. In addition to his love of music, Brian Williams enjoys watching professional auto racing and is a reader of serious biographies.
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