After a six-month suspension, Williams is "being given a second chance," former NBC News Executive Vice President Bill Wheatley tells PEOPLE
Brian Williams, who was suspended from NBC’s Nightly News earlier this year over false statements he made, will not be returning to the anchor desk.
The network confirmed the news in a statement Thursday and named Williams’ replacement Lester Holt, who has been filling in for the past four months, as the program’s permanent anchor.
“Lester has done outstanding work for NBC News over the last 10 years, and he’s performed remarkably well over the last few months under very tough circumstances,” said NBC News and MSNBC Chairman Andrew Lack in the statement.
Calling Holt, 56, “an exceptional anchor who goes straight to the heart of every story,” Lack continued, “In many ways, television news stands at a crossroads, and Lester is the perfect person to meet the moment.”
Holt – who, with this appointment, becomes the first solo African-American anchor of a weekday nightly network newscast – thanked NBC News for the “enormous honor. The respect and admiration I have for the Nightly News team has only grown deeper over the last several months that we’ve been together. Day in and day out under an uncomfortable spotlight they have produced world-class journalism. I’m very proud and grateful to be part of such an unflappable and dedicated team of professionals as we move forward together.”
Though one source close to production told PEOPLE last week that no decision had been made yet while NBC was looking at its options, other insiders saw the writing on the wall for Williams, 56.
“There is just no way Brian could stay in the anchor chair after everything that happened,” a source tells PEOPLE. “People in the industry feel bad for the guy and have compassion for him, but he has to be responsible for his actions, and it’s unfortunate.”
The New York Times reported Wednesday night that Williams will likely be assigned to handle breaking news at MSNBC – the cable network that he previously worked at as an anchor.
According to former NBC News executive vice president Bill Wheatley, who served as an unpaid adviser on the current negotiations with Williams: “Brian’s standing will ultimately be determined by the public’s willingness to accept him.”
Wheatley tells PEOPLE, “He’s being given a second chance. Now it’s up to him to bear down and win back the trust of the audience.”
Williams faced backlash at the end of January over false claims surrounding his time spent in Iraq in 2003. He later apologized to viewers, admitting that he had embellished his story of being in a helicopter that was hit by enemy fire.
• Reporting by LINDA MARX and EMILY STROHM