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NBC suspends Brian Williams without pay for 6 months

NBC has suspended Brian Williams without pay for six months for lies he told about stories he covered, the network announced Tuesday night.

"We let Brian know of our decision earlier today," NBC News President Deborah Turness wrote to staff. "Lester Holt will continue to substitute Anchor the NBC Nightly News."

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She said the network's "review" of statements made by Williams about dangers faced in covering the news continues.

The suspension is a classic, corporate half-a-loaf decision.

Six months is a significant reprimand that says to Williams he has sinned in major ways, and that he has seriously harmed the company he says he loves. It also tells the audience NBC News is not trying to act like nothing bad happened. But it doesn't finish his career.

It does, however, leave Williams in jeopardy. If he comes back in six months and the audience tunes him out because his credibility is shredded, he won't be anchor long.

There is also some corporate risk to NBC. It could lose its news lead in six months, and that will mean tens of millions of dollars from its bottom line.

But I truly wish the network would have stripped Williams of the managing editor's title permanently -- and brought him back as an anchor only, after the six-month suspension. It would have sent such a great statement about the value of credibility and honesty in covering the news.

With his lies, Williams has betrayed the journalistic integrity demanded of someone who leads a newsroom. Removing him as managing editor would have let Williams have a career, but would also say to viewers NBC News takes truth telling seriously.

Turness said she wanted to share management's "thought process" with staffers in her message Tuesday night.

"While on Nightly News on Friday, January 30, 2015, Brian misrepresented events which occurred while he was covering the Iraq War in 2003. It then became clear that on other occasions Brian had done the same while telling that story in other venues. This was wrong and completely inappropriate for someone in Brian's position," she wrote.

"In addition, we have concerns about comments that occurred outside NBC News while Brian was talking about his experiences in the field. As Managing Editor and Anchor of Nightly News, Brian has a responsibility to be truthful and to uphold the high standards of the news division at all times."

Turness said she made the decision as part of a team that included Steve Burke, CEO of NBCUniversal, and Pat Fili, chairman of the NBCUniversal News Group.

"We felt it would have been wrong to disregard the good work Brian has done and the special relationship he has forged with our viewers over 22 years.  Millions of Americans have turned to him every day, and he has been an important and well-respected part of our organization," Turness added.

"As I'm sure you understand, this was a very hard decision. Certainly there will be those who disagree.  But we believe this suspension is the appropriate and proportionate action."

The statement from NBC News included these words from Burke:

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"... By his actions, Brian has jeopardized the trust millions of Americans place in NBC News.  His actions are inexcusable and this suspension is severe and appropriate.  Brian's life's work is delivering the news. I know Brian loves his country, NBC News and his colleagues. He deserves a second chance and we are rooting for him.  Brian has shared his deep remorse with me and he is committed to winning back everyone's trust."

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