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Brian Williams on 'Today': My war story embellishments were 'clearly ego-driven'; fallout has been 'torture'

Moderator Brian Williams watches a video paying tribute

Moderator Brian Williams watches a video paying tribute to journalist Tim Russert during a taping of "Meet the Press" at NBC studios in Washington on June 22, 2008. Credit: Getty Images for Meet the Press / Alex Wong

Beginning his contrition tour on the "Today" show shortly after 7:30 Friday morning, former "Nightly News" anchor Brian Williams told Matt Lauer that the last four months had been "torture," while blaming his ego on what now appears to be a long history of embellishments.

Williams stopped short of saying he intended to mislead -- specifically referring to the downed helicopter story that lead to his six-month suspension in February -- but told Lauer: "This came clearly from a bad urge inside me. This was clearly ego-driven, a desire to better my role in a story I was already in. That's what I've been tearing apart, unpacking and analyzing."

Lauer pressed him on the contents of an NBC investigation into his reporting that uncovered other instances of embellishment -- mostly told on late night shows or in other public forums, according to a statement released Thursday. Would he like to "correct the record?"

"I would like to say what has happened in the past has been identified and torn apart by me and has been fixed. Going forward there will be different rules. I know why people feel the way they do. I am sorry for what happened here. I am different as a result and I expect to be held to a different standard." 

Lauer sought to get Williams to parse the difference between lying  -- obviously a fireable offense for an anchor -- or "conflating," a word Williams used in his own on-air apology four months ago, and was widely ridiculed for using.

But Williams said he had not intentionally lied: "It's not what happened. What happened was the fault of a whole host of other sins -- my ego getting the better of, to put myself in a better light, to appear better than I was. That was the process here."

Williams returns to NBC's air mid-August as breaking news anchor for MSNBC -- as many have observed, the equivalent of being shipped back to the minor leagues. But Williams said, "I'm very happy to be coming back. I'm happy to have a job."

And of his successor at "Nightly," Lester Holt, this: "No one is more deserving. This guy came in under the worst circumstances and held up everything great about the broadcast."

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