Is Brian Williams’ Iraq ‘Lie’ a Death Sentence for NBC Nightly News?

February 5, 2015 Updated: July 18, 2015

After “NBC Nightly News” anchor Brian Williams apologized on Wednesday night for making up a part of a story that he was in a U.S. military helicopter that was shot in Iraq, there’s been speculation that he might step down.

Williams issued an apology to Stars and Stripes, a military publication, before going on the air to apologize, recanting his Iraq story in 2003. “I made a mistake in recalling the events of 12 years ago.” he said on the air. “It didn’t take long to hear from some brave men and women in the air crews who were also in the desert.”

If Williams were to leave his post in disgrace, some have wondered the impact this will have on the already struggling network nightly news.

According to media research organization Pew, ratings for the respective NBC, ABC, and CBS nightly news programs have dropped since around 2000. But as AdWeek notes, “NBC Nightly News” finished first in ratings for the week ending on Jan. 26. NBC had a total of 9,889,000 viewers, ABC had 9,486,000, and CBS 8,009,000. This isn’t anything new, as the show has been first in ratings for most of the past decade.

“I would not have chosen to make this mistake,” Williams told Stars and Stripes. “I don’t know what screwed up in my mind that caused me to conflate one aircraft with another.”

Williams’ comments drew intense mockery from both mainstream and conservative media outlets.

The longtime anchor also responded in a Facebook post to service members who highlighted his mistake. “You are absolutely right and I was wrong,” he wrote. “In fact, I spent much of the weekend thinking I’d gone crazy. I feel terrible about making this mistake.”

There has been at least one instance where Williams made reference to the false story.

He told CBS host David Letterman in 2013: “We were in some helicopters. What we didn’t know was, we were north of the invasion? We were the northernmost Americans in Iraq. We were going to drop some bridge portions across the Euphrates so the Third Infantry could cross on them. Two of the four helicopters were hit, by ground fire, including the one I was in, RPG and AK-47.”