ABC beats Brian Williams in newscast in ratings Friday

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ABC beats Brian Williams in newscast in ratings Friday
NEW YORK, NY - AUGUST 06: (Exclusive Coverage) Dorothea Bon Jovi, Brian Williams, Jane Williams and Jon Bon Jovi attend the after party for 'Hamilton' Broadway opening night at Pier 60 on August 6, 2015 in New York City. (Photo by Bruce Glikas/FilmMagic)
NEW YORK, NY - FEBRUARY 04: Brian Williams attends the Boston Bruins vs New York Rangers game at Madison Square Garden on February 4, 2015 in New York City. (Photo by James Devaney/GC Images)
Journalist Brian Williams hosts onstage at The Lincoln Awards: A Concert For Veterans & The Military Family presented by The Friars Foundation at John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts on January 7, 2015 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Larry French/Getty Images for The Friars Club)
NBC NEWS -- Pictured: (l-r) General Wayne A. Downing and Anchor and Managing Editor, Brian Williams of 'NBC Nightly News' during a report from Camp Liberty in Baghdad, Iraq on March 8, 2007 (Photo by Jeff Riggins/NBC/NBCU Photo Bank via Getty Images)
Actress Allison Williams, center, poses with her parents NBC News anchor Brian Williams and Jane Williams at HBO's "Girls" fourth season premiere party at The American Museum of Natural History on Monday, Jan. 5, 2015, in New York. (Photo by Evan Agostini/Invision/AP)
WASHINGTON, DC - JANUARY 07: Journalist Brian Williams hosts onstage at The Lincoln Awards: A Concert For Veterans & The Military Family presented by The Friars Foundation at John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts on January 7, 2015 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Paul Morigi/Getty Images for The Friars Club)
NBC NEWS -- Pictured: (l-r) Lieutenant General Raymond T. Odierno, Anchor and Managing Editor, Brian Williams of 'NBC Nightly News' and General Wayne A. Downing in Baghdad, Iraq on March 8, 2007 (Photo by Jeff Riggins/NBC/NBCU Photo Bank via Getty Images)
NBC NEWS -- Pictured: (third from left) Anchor and Managing Editor, Brian Williams of 'NBC Nightly News' with American military reports from Camp Liberty in Baghdad, Iraq on March 8, 2007 (Photo by Jeff Riggins/NBC/NBCU Photo Bank via Getty Images)
NBC NEWS -- Pictured: (c) Anchor and Managing Editor, Brian Williams of 'NBC Nightly News' with American military reports from Camp Liberty in Baghdad, Iraq on March 8, 2007 (Photo by Jeff Riggins/NBC/NBCU Photo Bank via Getty Images)
NBC NEWS -- Pictured: (c) Anchor and Managing Editor, Brian Williams of 'NBC Nightly News' with American military reports from Camp Liberty in Baghdad, Iraq on March 8, 2007 (Photo by Jeff Riggins/NBC/NBCU Photo Bank via Getty Images)
FILE - In this Nov. 5, 2014 file photo, Brian Williams speaks at the 8th Annual Stand Up For Heroes, presented by New York Comedy Festival and The Bob Woodruff Foundation in New York. Williams has admitted he spread a false story about being on a helicopter that came under enemy fire while he was reporting in Iraq in 2003. Williams said he was in a helicopter following other aircraft, one of which was hit by ground fire. His helicopter was not hit. NBC News was not commenting Thursday about whether its top on-air personality would face disciplinary action. (Photo by Brad Barket/Invision/AP, File)
THE TONIGHT SHOW STARRING JIMMY FALLON -- Episode 0196 -- Pictured: (l-r) Journalist Brian Williams during an interview with host Jimmy Fallon on January 16, 2015 -- (Photo by: Douglas Gorenstein/NBC/NBCU Photo Bank via Getty Images)
LATE NIGHT WITH SETH MEYERS -- Episode 065 -- Pictured: (l-r) NBC News' Brian Williams during an interview with host Seth Meyers on July 7, 2014 -- (Photo by: Lloyd Bishop/NBC/NBCU Photo Bank via Getty Images)
Ron Meyer (L), president & COO of Universal Studios and Brian Williams, NBC network news anchorman, attend the world premiere of 'Neighbors,' April 28, 2014 at the Regency Village Theater in Los Angeles, California. Man at right in unidentified. AFP PHOTO / ROBYN BECK (Photo credit should read ROBYN BECK/AFP/Getty Images)
NBC NEWS-EVENTS -- Education Nation: New York Summit, Day 3 -- Pictured: Brian Williams at NBC News' Education Nation Summit at the New York Public Library in New York on Tuesday, September 25, 2012 -- (Photo by: Charles Sykes/NBC/NBCU Photo Bank via Getty Images)
NBC NEWS-EVENTS -- Education Nation: New York Summit, Day 3 -- Pictured: Brian Williams and Governor Mitt Romney at NBC News' Education Nation Summit at the New York Public Library in New York on Tuesday, September 25, 2012 -- (Photo by: Charles Sykes/NBC/NBCU Photo Bank via Getty Images)
TODAY -- Pictured: (l-r) Matt Lauer and Brian Williams appear on NBC News' 'Today' show (Photo by Peter Kramer/NBC/NBCU Photo Bank via Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NY - APRIL 23: NBC News anchor Brian Williams and his wife, Jane Stoddard Williams attend the Tribeca Talks Directors Series with Robert De Niro and Brian Williams during the 10th annual Tribeca Film Festival at BMCC Tribeca PAC on April 23, 2011 in New York City. (Photo by Bobby Bank/WireImage)
NBC NIGHTLY NEWS WITH BRIAN WILLIAMS -- Pictured: Brian Williams -- As protesters converged on the heart of Cairo in droves on Tuesday, NBC News' Brian Williams was there to speak with those who responded to the call for Egyptians to unite in the largest protest yet in a week of unceasing demands for President Hosni Mubarak to leave (Photo by Subrata De/NBC/NBCU Photo Bank via Getty Images)
Brian Williams, anchor and managing editor of NBC Nightly News, speaks at the Women's Conference Tuesday, Oct. 26, 2010, in Long Beach, Calif. (AP Photo/Matt Sayles)
Event co-hosts Brian Williams, left, and Katie Couric at the "Stand Up To Cancer" television event at Sony Studios in Culver City, Calif., on Friday, Sept. 10, 2010. The fundraising event aimed to raise funds for cancer research was simulcast live on several network and cable television stations. (AP Photo/Matt Sayles)
NBC News Anchor Brian Williams attends the premiere screening of 'Faces of America With Dr. Henry Louis Gates Jr.' at Jazz at Lincoln Center on Monday, Feb. 1, 2010 in New York. (AP Photo/Evan Agostini)
** FILE ** In this May 28, 2008 file photo, CBS "Evening News" anchor Katie Couric, center, NBC "Nightly News" anchor Brian Williams, left, and ABC "World News" anchor Charles Gibson, right, are interviewed on the NBC 'Today' show in New York. (AP Photo/Richard Drew, file)
NBC commentator Brian Williams talks to the crowd who assembled to hear the first Democratic presidential primary debate of the 2008 election hosted by South Carolina State University in Orangeburg, S.C., Thursday, April 26, 2007. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)
Brian Williams, with the NBC Nightly News, reports from the Virginia Tech campus in Blacksburg, Va., on Monday, April 16, 2007. A gunman killed 32 people at Virginia Tech in the deadliest shooting rampage in modern U.S. history Monday. (AP Photo/The Roanoke Times, Stephanie Klein-Davis)
Brian Williams, left, anchor of "NBC Nightly News," talks about the program along with Steve Capus, president of NBC News, at the Summer Television Critics Association press tour Friday, July 21, 2006, in Pasadena, Calif. (AP Photo/Reed Saxon)
Photo by: Jackson Lee/starmaxinc.com �2005 ALL RIGHTS RESERVED Telephone/Fax: (212) 995-1196 11/16/05 Brian Williams and wife at an American Museum of Natural History Benefit. (NYC) (Star Max via AP Images)
NBC's Brian Williams smiles during a news conference Tuesday, May 28, 2002, in New York. Williams will succeed Tom Brokaw as anchorman of NBC's "Nightly News" in 2004, as NBC becomes the first of the three networks to announce a succession plan for their chief anchors. (AP Photo/ Diane Bondareff)
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NEW YORK (AP) -- Brian Williams took a pounding in the ratings for his final night on the air before stepping aside as NBC looks into misstatements made by its top anchor, although day-to-day variations in viewership make it difficult to conclude whether that was because news consumers were losing faith in him.

The Nielsen company said ABC's "World News Tonight" had 8.46 million viewers on Friday, while NBC's "Nightly News" had just under 8 million. It was two nights after Williams had apologized on the air for falsely claiming that he was in helicopter that had been hit by a grenade while in Iraq in 2003.

For this television season as a whole, Williams' newscast has led in the ratings by an average of roughly 600,000 viewers each night over ABC.

On Thursday, the night after Williams' apology, NBC beat ABC by about 800,000 viewers, Nielsen said.

Although NBC leads in the ratings this season as it has for much of the past decade, ABC's broadcast with David Muir does win occasional nights. ABC has beaten NBC on nine individual nights since the beginning of the TV season in September - six of them Friday nights, which in general is NBC's weakest evening. On the Friday before Williams made his admission, ABC won by 400,000 viewers.

Substitute Lester Holt takes over "Nightly News" Monday for an undetermined amount of time after Williams, who is managing editor as well as anchor, announced over the weekend that he was stepping away entirely from the show.

Meanwhile, another instance emerged of Williams appearing to embellish a wartime reporting experience.

Williams traveled to Israel in July 2006 to cover that country's military campaign against Hezbollah. The anchor reported on MSNBC that he flew in a Black Hawk helicopter with Israeli military officials at a height of 1,500 feet. He said he saw a trail of smoke and dust where Katyusha rockets had landed in the uninhabited Israeli countryside. Then, he said he witnessed two rockets being launched toward Israel some six miles from where he was flying, according to the network transcript.

In an interview at Fairfield University more than a year later, Williams said that Katyusha rockets passed "just underneath the helicopter I was riding in," according to a film of the interview, described in The Washington Post on Monday.

Williams was even more descriptive in an August 2006 appearance with Jon Stewart on Comedy Central's "The Daily Show."

"Here's a view of rockets I have never seen, passing underneath us, 1,500 feet beneath us," Williams said. "And we've got the gunner doors on this thing, and I'm saying to the general, some four-star, `It wouldn't take much for them to adjust the aim and try to do a ring toss right through our open doors, would it?'?"

Also Monday, the newspaper Stars and Stripes released a transcript of its interview with Williams last week, made before his apology, where he attempted to explain his story. Williams was asked about a claim by military involved in the 2003 Iraq mission that his helicopter was flying about an hour behind the Chinook helicopter that had been hit by the rocket-propelled grenade.

Williams said it was the first he'd heard of that. "I could not see in front of us and I thought we were just in one flotilla, for lack of a better word," he said.

NBC hasn't given a timetable for how long its look into Williams' statements, coordinated by the division's investigative editor Richard Esposito, will take or if its report will be made public.

It has prompted a vigorous debate. Some critics suggest that Williams' actions, particularly telling the untrue Iraq story on "Nightly News," warrant his dismissal as anchor. Others wonder if commerce will win out, since Williams has kept "Nightly News" at the top of the ratings for a decade while much of his news division crumbled around him. How much are the years of good work worth?

"This is one of the toughest calls that I've ever seen," said Paul Levinson, professor of communications and media studies at Fordham University. "On the one hand, the public is right to expect nothing but the truth from our reporters and our news anchors."

Yet this isn't a case of someone deliberately inventing news sources or, in the case of Dan Rather at CBS a decade ago, reporting during a presidential campaign a story casting doubt on President George W. Bush's wartime record that could not be backed up, he said.

"The real difficulty for a news organization, or a reporter, is that once you've made one misstep, it's really hard to earn (trust) back," said David Westin, former ABC News president. "You can. But it takes a lot of time. It takes a long period of time with proven performances. It takes a long time of getting it right."

The incident should remind news organizations that it's more important to report the news than "brand" their personalities, he said.

More than 1,000 comments were posted to NBC's "Nightly News" Facebook page. The majority supported Williams, with some posters suggesting they wouldn't watch the broadcast until he returned. But some commenters said they wouldn't trust him again.

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