Brian Williams to step down as anchor of MSNBC’s ‘The Last Word’

Brian Williams will step off television Thursday, capping off more than two years of tumult at NBC News that forced him to take a leave of absence after an embellishment scandal.

Williams, who hasn’t been seen on MSNBC’s “The Last Word” since April, has announced he will host a special “Commander-in-Chief Forum” on the network. The show will include the upcoming 2020 presidential debates.

“It will be the week of the second presidential debate, and I’ll be here with our (political and policy) experts, sort of following along what the candidates do,” Williams said on MSNBC this week. “In many ways it will resemble a current affairs show more than anything else.”

NBC, in a statement Thursday, said “Last Word” would not resume production immediately after Williams’ special airs.

Williams is still the face of MSNBC, and his exit is being seen as a reset of sorts for the network. NBC News president Noah Oppenheim hired him after he was fired from NBC in 2015. He will remain on MSNBC.

His “Last Word” show aired at the beginning of the evening and got decent ratings. Williams disappeared from the lineup following the revelation of his embellishment about coming under enemy fire while covering the Iraq War. The network aired newscasts without him, and brought in new hosts to do earlier shows.

But Williams’ newscast had a limited viewership, and MSNBC says it lost audience in key demographic of viewers ages 25-54. “Last Word” often did better than other programs in the 8 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. time slot.

The firestorm that erupted over Williams’ statements began in February 2015 when he wrongly said he was aboard a helicopter that came under fire during the Iraq War. The news of his embellishment led NBC to announce Williams was taking a six-month leave, which ended in May. By then, network chief Steve Burke had lost patience with Williams, who had not said publicly what he knew when he was told about the mistaken reports by military members.

In the wake of his firing, Williams admitted he had embellished his reporting while flying on a helicopter over the Sinai Desert.

Williams wasn’t the only high-profile NBC personality to undergo a rough ride at NBC News. He will be succeeded on MSNBC by former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who began as an editor at The Wall Street Journal before he began his career in public relations and business.

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