Breaking: Brian Williams will step down from desk "for a few days"

That came faster than I thought. There really aren’t all that many details yet, but it sounds like Brian Williams will misremember to come to work on Monday night.

NBC Nightly News Managing Editor and anchorman Brian Williams said Saturday that he is temporarily removing himself from the network’s nightly broadcasts following revelations he made false statements about his experience reporting in Iraq in 2003.

“In the midst of a career spent covering and consuming news, it has become painfully apparent to me that I am presently too much a part of the news, due to my actions,” Williams said in a statement to NBC staff. “As managing editor of NBC Nightly News, I have decided to take myself off of my daily broadcast for the next several days.”

The anchor chair will be filled by Lester Holt. For some reason, I feel rather bad for Holt at this point. The headhunters have been smelling blood in the water for a while now, and it’s hard to turn off that appetite once it gets going. I imagine that somebody will be combing through all of Holt’s work for the rest of the weekend and looking for any questionable stories and such.

For the time being, Williams is still saying that this is short term while they work things out in the home office. That may be true. It’s not as if a public outcry can actually force NBC to show him the door. But they still have to mind their credibility for the future. We shall see.

This one is just a quick update for now, but since we’ve been hitting the story all week it seems appropriate to let you folks have at it as soon as the word came down.

Update (Ed): Jay Rosen writes at length about the Williams fiasco, and calls it a failure of leadership at its core:

But where is NBC News? For that matter: why isn’t Brian Williams the one interviewing the military veterans who can help him correct his faulty account? Why isn’t he putting his prestige and instant name recognition to work in getting to the bottom of what actually happened? Sure, it might be humbling. And there might be credibility problems since he would be investigating himself, in a way. But going right at those problems — and emerging on the other side with something that the audience, his colleagues and other journalists can trust — is exactly what’s called for in this situation.

I mean, that’s what a leader of a news division would do— if he’s really a leader, and not a figurehead, air head, talking head or swollen head. A leader of a network news division that is still dependent, for better or worse, on the archaic anchorman system would recognize that the architecture of trust that places the lead anchor in both the glamour and the “stress” positions — head of state and prime minister, as it were — can crumble instantly if the anchorman himself cannot be trusted in telling the story of his own experience. That affects not only Williams but everyone who works for NBC News.

Think about it: The Face of the Brand lets other news organizations re-report his faulty stories? Journalistically speaking, how does that work? It doesn’t. Too late now, though. The apology Williams gave has been called into grave question. Other newsrooms have led the charge on the story. NBC has an internal investigation underway to figure out how bad the situation is. And Politico is reporting: “Brian Williams is in serious trouble.” #

The trouble has been caused not only by his fictionalizing of a helicopter ride 12 years ago, but by a failure actually to be what the anchorman position calls for. Not a great talk show guest, but a great leader.

Taking himself off the broadcast was the first act of leadership seen so far — if that was really Williams’ decision. Will he come back? I’d guess it really comes down to the 2003 broadcast and whether NBC determines that Williams and his crew purposefully manipulated the audio to make it appear that it was their flight that came under fire. If this is just Williams telling tall tales out of school, that’s one thing, but cooking the report would be a fraud on NBC’s audience. NBC has “several days” to make that determination, and if they don’t get it right, their competitors will.