Lester Holt Named Anchor of NBC Nightly News, Brian Williams Will Not Return to the Program

By Chris Ariens 

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Lester Holt has been named anchor of NBC Nightly News following the decision to permanently remove Brian Williams from the newscast. Holt becomes just the fourth solo anchor in the program’s 45-year history, following in the footsteps of John Chancellor, Tom Brokaw and Williams. (When Nightly News launched in 1970, Chancellor, David Brinkley and Frank McGee anchored in a rotation).

“Lester has done outstanding work for NBC News over the last ten years, and he’s performed remarkably well over the last few months under very tough circumstances,” said Andy Lack, chairman of NBC News and MSNBC. “He’s an exceptional anchor who goes straight to the heart of every story and is always able to find its most direct connection to the everyday lives of our audience. In many ways, television news stands at a crossroads, and Lester is the perfect person to meet the moment.”

Holt will also become the first African American man to solo anchor a nightly news broadcast. Max Robinson was the first African American evening news anchor, when, from 1978-1983, he co-anchored ABC’s World News Tonight in a three-city rotation; Frank Reynolds in New York, Peter Jennings in London and Robinson in Chicago.

“This is an enormous honor. The respect and admiration I have for the Nightly News team has only grown deeper over the last several months that we’ve been together,” said Holt. “Day-in and day-out under an uncomfortable spotlight they have produced world-class journalism. I’m very proud and grateful to be part of such an unflappable and dedicated team of professionals as we move forward together.”

Holt’s ascension to the Nightly News chair comes after nearly 5 months of filling in for the suspended Williams. For the most part, Holt has held the audience but the show continues to lose viewers, a trend which began more than a year ago. World News with Diane Sawyer won the May 2014 Sweeps among A25-54 viewers for the first time in more than 6 years. When David Muir took over in September World News Tonight continued to lead among younger viewers. Then, in late March, ABC overtook NBC among total viewers for the first time in 7 years. It’s been back and forth since.

Holt joined NBC in 2000, first anchoring for MSNBC, before moving to NBC News where, in 2003, he was named anchor of Weekend Today following the death of David Bloom. In 2007, Holt added the weekend editions of Nightly News to his plate. Since 2011, he has been anchor of Dateline NBC.

Brian Williams Lester Holt

The network released the following statement on the decision not to return Brian Williams to Nightly News:

Lack and Steve Burke, CEO of NBCU, have decided that Williams will not be the anchor of Nightly News. Williams, who was an anchor at MSNBC from 1996 to 2004, will now join MSNBC as anchor of breaking news and special reports. He will work with Mark Lukasiewicz, SVP of Special Reports for NBCU News Group, who will help lead a team to strengthen MSNBC’s daytime coverage by further leveraging NBC News’ expertise in breaking news. In addition, Williams will serve as a breaking news anchor for NBC News live special reports when Holt is not available. He will begin the new role in mid-August.

NBCUniversal conducted a review of Brian Williams’ significant reporting in the field and commentary related to that reporting on NBC News platforms and in other public appearances over a period of more than ten years. The review was overseen by Kim Harris, Executive Vice President and General Counsel of NBCUniversal, who previously served as Deputy White House Counsel and as Senior Counsel at the U.S. Department of Justice. It was conducted by Richard Esposito, who leads the investigative unit at NBC News.

The extensive review found that Williams made a number of inaccurate statements about his own role and experiences covering events in the field. The statements in question did not for the most part occur on NBC News platforms or in the immediate aftermath of the news events, but rather on late-night programs and during public appearances, usually years after the news events in question.

In a statement, Williams says, “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% 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.”