Brian Williams

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For other people named Brian Williams, see Brian Williams (disambiguation).
Brian Williams
Brian Williams 2012 Shankbone.JPG
Williams in 2012
Born Brian Douglas Williams
(1959-05-05) May 5, 1959 (age 56)
Middletown Township, New Jersey, U.S.
Residence New Canaan, Connecticut, U.S.
Nationality American
Alma mater Brookdale Community College
George Washington University
The Catholic University of America
Years active 1981–present
Notable credit(s) NBC News reporter (1993–2004)
NBC Nightly News weekend anchor (1993–1999)
NBC Nightly News anchor and managing editor (2004–February 2015)
MSNBC breaking news anchor (September 2015–)
Salary < $10 million annually[1]
Religion Roman Catholicism[2]
Spouse(s) Jane Gillan Stoddard (1986–present)
Children 2, including Allison
Website Official profile[dead link]

Brian Douglas Williams (born May 5, 1959)[3] is an American journalist. He is best known for serving ten years as anchor and managing editor for NBC Nightly News, the evening news program of the NBC television network. Nine months after taking the position in December 2004,[4] he anchored NBC coverage from New Orleans of Hurricane Katrina and its aftermath, and NBC News won a Peabody Award for his and his colleagues' coverage of the story.[5] As anchor of the program, he was considered one of the country's most popular and well-respected news anchors, which led to his becoming a frequent late-night talk show guest.[6][7][8][9] Williams also hosted the prime time news magazine Rock Center with Brian Williams, which was heavily promoted but cancelled after only two seasons.[10]

In February 2015, Williams was suspended without pay from Nightly News for "misrepresent[ing] events which occurred while he was covering the 2003 Iraq War."[11] A subsequent investigation by NBC found that Williams had made a "number of inaccurate statements about his own role" in events he reported over the years and in June 2015, he was reassigned to breaking news and special events coverage on MSNBC, with Lester Holt being named as the permanent anchor of NBC Nightly News.[12]

Williams returned to the air on September 22, 2015, on MSNBC, anchoring the coverage of the touchdown of Pope Francis in the U.S. at the beginning of his six-day visit.[13]

Early life[edit]

Williams was born in Middletown Township, New Jersey,[3] and reared in a "boisterous" Irish Catholic home.[14] He is the son of Dorothy May (née Pampel) and Gordon Lewis Williams, who was an executive vice president of the National Retail Merchants Association, in New York.[15][16] His mother was an amateur stage actress.[14] Williams is the youngest of four siblings.[17] He lived in Elmira, New York, for ten years before moving to Middletown, New Jersey, when he was in junior high school.[18]

Williams graduated from Mater Dei High School, a Roman Catholic high school in the New Monmouth section of Middletown.[19] While in high school, he was a volunteer firefighter for three years at the Middletown Township Fire Department. Also while in high school, he was the Editorial Editor for the school newspaper.[20] He suffered an accident during a football game which left him with a crooked nose.[21] His first job was as a busboy at Perkins Pancake House.[22]

After high school Williams attended Brookdale Community College, after which he transferred to The Catholic University of America and then George Washington University.[23] He did not graduate and instead interned with the administration of President Jimmy Carter. He later called leaving college early one of his "great regrets."[24]

Early broadcast career[edit]

Williams first worked in broadcasting in 1981 at KOAM-TV in Pittsburg, Kansas. The following year he covered news in the Washington, D.C. area at TV station WTTG, then worked in Philadelphia for WCAU, at that time a CBS affiliate.[25] Beginning in 1987 he broadcast in New York City at WCBS.

Williams joined NBC News in 1993, where he anchored the national Weekend Nightly News and was chief White House correspondent.[26] In the summer of 1996 he began serving as anchor and managing editor of The News with Brian Williams, broadcast on MSNBC and CNBC.[27] Williams also served as primary substitute anchor for Tom Brokaw on The NBC Nightly News with Tom Brokaw, and the Saturday anchor of that news broadcast.[28]

NBC Nightly News[edit]

Williams became anchor of NBC Nightly News on December 2, 2004, and his first year in that post was marked by coverage of two disasters: the Asian tsunami and Hurricane Katrina. His and NBC's Katrina coverage were widely praised, and Williams in particular was applauded "for venting his anger and frustration over the government's failure to act quickly to help the victims."[29] NBC News won a Peabody Award for its coverage, the Peabody committee concluding that "Williams, and the entire staff of NBC Nightly News exemplified the highest levels of journalistic excellence in reporting on Hurricane Katrina."[5] NBC Nightly News also earned the George Polk Award[30] and the duPont-Columbia University Award for its Katrina coverage.[31] Vanity Fair called Williams' work on Katrina "Murrow-worthy" and reported that during the hurricane he became "a nation's anchor." The New York Times characterized Williams' reporting of the hurricane as "a defining moment."[32]

In 2007, Time magazine named Williams one of the 100 most influential people in the world.[33]

In 2009, Williams was awarded the Walter Cronkite Award for Excellence in Journalism by Arizona State University. At the announcement of the award, Cronkite said he was one of Williams' "ardent admirers" and described him as a "fastidious newsman" who brought credit to the television news reporting profession.[34]

Williams interviews U.S. presidential candidate Mitt Romney on July 25, 2012.

During his tenure Williams received 12 News & Documentary Emmy Awards for "outstanding" work as anchor and managing editor of the Nightly News. He received one Emmy in 2006 (for Katrina),[35] two in 2007,[36] one in 2009,[37] two in 2010,[38] one in 2011,[39] one in 2013,[40] and one in 2014.[41] The 2014 Emmy was awarded Nightly News for its coverage of a deadly series of tornadoes in Oklahoma, for which it also received the duPont-Columbia University Award.[42]

Williams received a 2012 Emmy for his interview program Rock Center[43] and a 2013 Emmy for being one of the executive producers and editors of a documentary on the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum.[40] He also shared a 2014 Emmy awarded for an NBC News Special on the Boston Marathon bombings.[41]

Based on the Nielsen ratings, from late 2008 Williams' news broadcast consistently had more viewers than its two main rivals, ABC's World News Tonight and CBS Evening News. In fact, from late 2008 to late 2014, NBC Nightly News beat the other two network programs in the Nielsen ratings all but one week.[44] His salary was reportedly more than $10 million a year, with a five-year contract signed in December 2014.[45]

In February 2015, Williams was suspended for six months from the broadcast for misrepresenting his experience in the 2003 invasion of Iraq.[11] After an internal NBC investigation, the network cited "a number of inaccurate statements about his own role . . . covering events" and reassigned Williams to anchor breaking news and special events for MSNBC, beginning in September 2015.[12] He returned at a "substantially" reduced salary.[1]


Iraq War helicopter incident[edit]

Williams on board the U.S. amphibious assault ship USS Tarawa in the Persian Gulf on March 13, 2003.

On February 4, 2015, Williams apologized for and recanted an Iraq War story he had told on the January 30 Nightly News broadcast, that a military helicopter he was traveling in had been "forced down after being hit by an RPG.”[46][47] Williams' story was criticized soon after it was aired by Lance Reynolds, a flight engineer on board one of the three Chinook helicopters that had been attacked.[48] Reynolds and other crew members said they were forced to make an emergency landing, and that Williams' Chinook arrived a half hour to an hour later.[47][49]

In his original on-air reporting of the incident on March 26, 2003, for Dateline NBC, Williams had said only that "the Chinook ahead of us was almost blown out of the sky . . . by an RPG" and made an emergency landing. But in introducing the piece, NBC News anchor Tom Brokaw described Williams as having "got [him]self into . . . a close call in the skies over Iraq,"[50] and the story was headlined, "Target Iraq: Helicopter NBC's Brian Williams Was Riding In Comes Under Fire."[47] Also, a book published by NBC in 2003, Operation Iraqi Freedom: The Inside Story, included a photo caption: "With NBC anchor Brian Williams . . . aboard, Army Chinook helicopters are forced to make a desert landing after being attacked by Iraqi Fedayeen."[51]

Further investigation revealed that January 2015 was not the only time Williams had misrepresented the incident. In 2007, he said, "... I looked down the tube of an RPG that had been fired at us, and it hit the chopper in front of us." This contradicted statements by the crew of the craft that was hit, namely, that their craft was at least 30 minutes ahead of the Williams' helicopter.[52] In a 2013 interview, Williams said that "two of our four helicopters were hit by ground fire, including the one I was on ... we landed very quickly and hard and we put down, and we were stuck, four birds in the middle of the desert".[53]

On February 10, 2015, NBC News President Deborah Turness announced Williams' suspension from Nightly News for six months without pay for having misrepresented the Iraq incident.[11] The New Canaan Advertiser reported that NBC was no longer allowing Williams to make public appearances, in light of his suspension.[54]

Seal Team Six[edit]

A statement by Williams regarding the Navy SEALs has also been questioned: Williams said he flew into Baghdad with SEAL Team Six during the invasion of Iraq, but Special Operations Command spokesman Ken McGraw stated the SEALs do not embed journalists.[55]

Hurricane Katrina[edit]

The Iraq War controversy prompted greater scrutiny of several earlier statements made by Williams.[56][57] Williams referred inconsistently to a suicide that took place inside the New Orleans Superdome during Hurricane Katrina.[58] In a 2005 television documentary, Williams implied he was not a witness to the suicide, stating, "We'd heard the story of a man killing himself, falling from the upper deck."[59] In a 2014 interview, however, Williams said, "We watched, all of us watched, as one man committed suicide."[60]

Fall of the Berlin Wall[edit]

Another reference, to the fall of the Berlin Wall, drew attention. In 2008, Williams said that he was "at the Brandenburg Gate the night the wall came down," while CBS and other sources report that Williams did not arrive until November 10, the day after the gates between the two halves of Berlin were opened[61][62] ("'The night the wall came down' is widely recognized as November 9, 1989," according to CNN.)[63] Williams joked in 2014 that he was upset that NBC's Tom Brokaw had arrived first in Berlin, adding that "by the second night of the story, we were all there."[62]

Other incidents[edit]

In April 2015, a source close to NBC's internal investigation of Williams' reporting said investigators had found at least 11 instances where he either embellished facts or bent the truth, including during his coverage of Arab Spring protests in Cairo's Tahrir Square. The report on the investigation was not released, and the source was not named because "he [was not] authorized to talk about an internal matter."[64][65]

Rock Center with Brian Williams[edit]

On October 4, 2011, NBC announced that Williams would be the host of Rock Center with Brian Williams, a newsmagazine program premiering on October 31, 2011, at 10:00 pm Eastern.[66] The program used the nickname of Rockefeller Center, the New York City landmark where NBC Radio City Studios are located, in its title, and it would become the first new NBC News program to launch in primetime in nearly two decades.[67] NBC cancelled Rock Center on May 10, 2013, due to low ratings. The last show aired on June 21, 2013,[68] and a staff member was quoted as saying Williams felt "insulted" by the program's cancellation.[69]


Williams was anchor of The News with Brian Williams from 1997-2003. The program served as the network's flagship evening newscast. Williams departed the show when he was named Tom Brokaw's NBC Nightly News successor in 2004. At MSNBC, Williams became infamous for his coverage of the Death of Princess Diana, the September 11th Attacks and the Iraq War.

In September 2015, Williams returned to MSNBC as the network's Chief Breaking News Anchor. Williams breaks into daytime programming, mostly during the 9 AM-5 PM EST hours, often several times a day with updates on developing and breaking stories, and anchors MSNBC's rolling coverage during major events. In his time back at MSNBC he has covered Pope Francis' visit to America, the Oregon Community College Shooting, Hurricane Joaquin, and press conferences by the President.

Other activities[edit]

Williams has frequently appeared on The Daily Show as a celebrity guest interviewed by Jon Stewart. He appeared on the Weekend Update segment of Saturday Night Live on the season 32 premiere hosted by Dane Cook and then hosted a season 33 episode on November 3, 2007, the last episode to air before the show went on a three-month hiatus due to the 2007–08 Writers Guild strike. With this episode, Williams was the first, and (so far) only, sitting network news anchor to host SNL.[70]

Williams appeared on Sesame Street in a 2007 episode, announcing the word of the day, "squid," in a special broadcast. Williams appeared on Sesame Street again in a 2008 episode, reporting for Sesame Street Nightly News about the "mine-itis" outbreak, becoming a victim. He was also the host of the 2009 Annual Sesame Workshop Benefit Gala.

On February 22, 2010, while covering the Winter Olympics, Williams did a skit with Brian Williams, the Canadian sportscaster of CTV Sports, on the CTV Olympic set.[71][72] Some in the media dubbed this the new "Battle of the Brians," as NBC's Williams compared his own modest set to CTV's expensive Olympic studio.[73]

Williams has regularly appeared on Late Night with Jimmy Fallon, where he slow jams the news of the previous week as Fallon sings and reiterates what Williams says, with The Roots providing the musical backing. A mash-up video created by Fallon, where Williams appears to rap to hip-hop instrumentals, became viral within a few hours.[74] Williams has also made numerous appearances on Late Show with David Letterman. During an appearance on July 26, 2011, he demonstrated a skilled vocal impersonation of TV personality Regis Philbin. He has also appeared on Late Night with Conan O'Brien, where he took part in numerous skits and interviews. A widely quoted exposé on NBC News, published by New York Magazine in March, 2015, reported that Williams had in fact discussed taking over for Jay Leno on The Tonight Show with the CEO of NBCUniversal, and that he had also approached the CEO of CBS about succeeding David Letterman. Both networks declined, but the discussions may have been the genesis of "Rock Center" at NBC.[75]

Williams also frequently made guest appearances on NBC's television comedy 30 Rock, as a caricatured version of himself. In the episode "The Ones," he's seen at home receiving proposition calls meant for Tracy Jordan. In "Audition Day," he auditions to be a new TGS cast member. He also is seen once on the show taunting Tina Fey's character, Liz Lemon. In April, 2012, on the West Coast installment of the 30 Rock season 6 live show, Williams portrayed a news anchor covering the Apollo 13 story.

Williams was the commencement speaker at Bates College on December 2, 2004,[77] and at the University of Notre Dame in 2010.[78] In May 2012, he spoke at the George Washington University commencement on the National Mall.[79] He was also the commencement speaker for Elon University's graduating class of 2013, which included his son Douglas.[80]

Williams has written for publications including The New York Times[81] and Time magazine.[82]

Williams was a member of the board of directors of the Congressional Medal of Honor Foundation from September 2006 until resigning in February 2015, in the wake of the scandal over his Iraq War comments.[83]

In May 2015, Williams bowed out of hosting a broadcast of the first annual Lincoln Awards, a Friars Club event and concert honoring individuals and organizations who had provided outstanding service to U.S. veterans and military families, because "he didn't want to be a distraction."[84][85]

Personal life[edit]

Williams and his wife Jane in 2009.

Williams married his wife, Jane Gillan Williams (née Stoddard), at the First Presbyterian Church of New Canaan, Connecticut on June 7, 1986.[86] He currently lives in New Canaan, Connecticut with his wife.[54] He received an Honorary Doctor of Humane Letters degree from Bates College in 2005.[87] His daughter Allison is an actress who stars on HBO's television series Girls. His son, Douglas, is a 2013 graduate of Elon University.[88]

Williams was named "Father of the Year" in 1996 by the National Father's Day Committee.[89][90]


Year Title Role First episode Notes
2009–12 30 Rock Himself The Ones
2013 Family Guy Himself "Space Cadet" Voice only
2013 The Soup Himself Himself

Career timeline[edit]

  • 1981: KOAM-TV
  • 1982–86: WTTG-TV correspondent
  • 1985: Panorama Host
  • 1985–87: WCAU-TV New Jersey correspondent
  • 1987–93: WCBS-TV Anchor of weekday noon and weekend night newscasts; reporter
  • 1993–present: NBC News


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External links[edit]

Media offices
Preceded by
Andrea Mitchell
Chief White House Correspondent of NBC News
Succeeded by
David Bloom
Preceded by
Tom Brokaw
NBC Nightly News Weekday Edition Anchor
Succeeded by
Lester Holt