Brian Williams taking himself off air temporarily

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Brian Williams taking himself off air temporarily
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)
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)
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)
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LOS ANGELES (AP) - Brian Williams said he is temporarily stepping away from the "NBC Nightly News" amid questions about his memories of war coverage in Iraq, calling it "painfully apparent" that he has become a distracting news story.

In a memo Saturday to NBC News staff that was released by the network, the anchorman said that as managing editor of "NBC Nightly News" he is taking himself off the broadcast for several days. Weekend anchor Lester Holt will fill in, Williams said.

NBC News refused to comment Saturday on when or whether Williams would return and who would decide his future.

Williams, however, said he would be back.

"In the midst of a career spent covering and consuming news, it has become painfully apparent to me that I am presently too much a part of the news, due to my actions," Williams said in his memo.

"Upon my return, I will continue my career-long effort to be worthy of the trust of those who place their trust in us," he wrote.

NBC News President Deborah Turness said Friday that an internal investigation had been launched after questions arose over Williams' false on-air statements that he was in a helicopter hit by a rocket-propelled grenade while in Iraq in 2003. Williams apologized for those statements Wednesday.

There was no indication by Williams, who has anchored "NBC Nightly News" since 2004, that an absence was forthcoming during his newscast Friday. He signed off as he usually does, saying he hoped people would be back to see him Monday.

Holt did mention Williams' leave in Saturday's newscast.

"A word tonight about our colleague Brian Williams, who you may know has been under scrutiny this past week over his recollection of certain stories he's covered," Holt said before reading Williams' memo to viewers.

Since Williams' apology, questions also have been raised about his claim that he saw a body or bodies in the Hurricane Katrina floodwaters that hit New Orleans in 2005.

His remarks in a 2006 interview drew suspicion because there was relatively little flooding in New Orleans' French Quarter, the area where Williams was staying. A person at NBC confirmed that Williams stayed at the Ritz-Carlton, which is in an area where a news photographer and a law enforcement official said they saw bodies.

The effect on "Nightly News" remains to be seen. But even if its ratings suffer for a long period, it wouldn't be enough to damage the credit profile of parent Comcast Corp., said Mike Simonton, an analyst with Fitch Ratings.

"Comcast is a large, diverse media conglomerate with meaningful financial cushion to endure weakness in any one of its smaller divisions over a period of time," he said. Other media companies have survived departures of on-air stars, Simonton said.

Paul Levinson, professor of communications and media studies at Fordham University, called Williams' time off a good idea for him and NBC News.

"It gives him a chance to catch his breath and, on a human level, it must be excruciating to get on the air and report the news and not say anything about this," Levinson said.

NBC News, he said, "wants to be in the business of reporting on the news, and not have people thinking, 'is he telling the truth?'"

Rich Hanley, director of the graduate journalism program at Quinnipiac University, also lauded Williams' leave.

It buys time for the network to assemble a contingency plan in the event it determines to suspend or remove him, Hanley said. A final decision may await the finding of any "collateral impact" on another key NBC program, "Today," which would be evident when the February ratings numbers come out, he said.

"Nightly News" has reigned as the top-rated evening newscast over its competition on CBS and ABC.

Williams' importance to NBC News goes beyond his anchor status, said Al Tompkins, a faculty member for broadcast and online at The Poynter Institute, a journalism think tank.

"He sets the tone of the network. It may not be as critical as when (Walter) Cronkite was CBS' anchor, in every way, but he is more than a face," he said.

Williams' absence itself is a delicate challenge, according to Tompkins.

"He can't be gone long. The timing will be critical - too short and it won't seem like he has taken himself out of the game long enough, and too long and he looks like damaged goods," he said.

___

AP Television Writer David Bauder and AP Business Writer David Koenig in New York contributed to this report.

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