NBC's Brian Williams Takes Leave Amid Investigation Into Exaggerated Stories

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NBC's Brian Williams, October 26, 2010.Credit: AP

Veteran U.S. television news anchor Brian Williams stepped aside amid an internal network investigation into him lying about an incident in Iraq.

Williams, 55, was called out by U.S. soldiers who said he was never on a helicopter that was hit by enemy fire and had to make an emergency landing, as he had publicly claimed.

"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 announcing an indefinite leave of absence.

Williams' NBC news show is the top-rated U.S. network evening news broadcast with more than 9 million viewers. On January 30, he said on air that he recalled "a terrible moment a dozen years back in Iraq, when the helicopter we were traveling in was forced down after being hit by an RPG."

Military crew members who were on the mission turned to social media to cry foul, and accused him of lying.

Three helicopters did make an emergency landing after being hit by small arms and rocket fire on March 24, 2003, over Iraq. But crew members said on Facebook and told the military newspaper Stars and Stripes that Williams and his NBC team arrived on another helicopter an hour later.

Williams repeated the exaggeration on at least two other occasions, starting in 2008.

On Wednesday, Williams admitted on air to having "bungled" his story.

NBC News president Deborah Turness told staffers in an email that the network had launched an investigation and was "working on what the best next steps are," according to media reports.

NBC executives "were flummoxed over why the leading network anchor felt that he needed Hemingwayesque, bullets-whizzing-by flourishes to puff himself up," New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd wrote.

But it also seemed "redundant to gnaw on his bones," she wrote, referring to the outpouring of alarm over erosion of the credibility of TV news.

Other reporting from Williams' high-profile news career is facing scrutiny, too.

The New Orleans Advocate questioned Williams' dramatic recollections while reporting on Hurricane Katrina in 2005. He claimed he had contracted dysentery from drinking floodwater and saw a body float past his hotel room.

The newspaper quoted health officials saying they had no reports of dysentery cases, and that the French Quarter, where Williams stayed, is on high ground and remained largely dry during the flooding.