WASHINGTON, June 18, 2015 − Brian Williams appears to be on track to come back. It’s just like the executives announced when the “NBC Evening News” anchor was thrown out of his seat after several run-ins with the truth earlier this year.
The scandal of Williams’ “misrepresentations” began with his tall tale involving a violent attack on the helicopter carrying him in a Middle East war zone − a helicopter that never faced attack according to soldiers in the know. Nevertheless, Williams certainly created a compelling story of how frightening of an experience he allegedly endured, a story later proved entirely false.
Once the initial scandal erupted, virtually everything Williams had covered since the 1990s was subject to intense scrutiny, from his alleged witnessing of the fall of the Berlin Wall to the way he casually blundered into an unscheduled interview with the Pope. These were indeed fascinating stories. But their veracity remains doubtful, and some of his tall tales have been proven to be untrue.
Clearly, once these stories broke, NBC had to do something to restore what was left of the network’s integrity. That turned out to be a six-month suspension from the NBC anchor chair without pay for Williams, an exile that included his his other duties at NBC as well, all of which would presumably give him time to contemplate the consequences of his lack of professionalism.
From the date his network suspension began, wild speculation has raged concerning Williams’ ultimate fate on NBC. Some argued he’d return to his anchor chair after the suspension as if the scandal had never happened. That scenario made some sense, given that Williams’ telecasts had consistently been top-rated in the evening news timeslot.
Others, however, after witnessing the success of his temporary replacement, Lester Holt, thought it might be best to find something else for Williams to do after his time in the network phantom zone had come to an end.
Yesterday, however, the debate over the future of Brian Williams on NBC seems to have come to a conclusion. NBC plans to transfer its one-time superstar to sister network MSNBC. For those who have served in a high position in any major network, Williams’ likely fate would seem to be a form a purgatory, a way for NBC to fire its tarnished star without actually pulling the trigger.
It is a truth universally acknowledged that MSNBC’s ratings are pathetic by any objective measure. That bottom-rated cable network no longer even bothers to position itself as a serious news channel, given its lineup of overt progressives and partisan hacks, whose constant sloganeering more closely resembles state-run propaganda outbursts from the extreme far left than it does the content of a genuine source of information. (Example, “It’s Time to Lean Forward.”)
Interestingly, MSNBC is actually where Williams’ career with the parent network began back in the day. For Williams, even being seen with this cast of dubious characters must be perceived a significant step backwards in a heretofore storied career. It’s like an officer losing all his stripes and having to start back at the bottom again, an almost unendurable humiliation.
That, in fact, may be NBC’s real objective here, to simply induce Brian Williams to resign rather than serving in such a potentially embarrassing position. So far, I have not seen any formal followup on this from either NBC or its former “Nightly News” anchor. All I have seen are third-party reports. Most carry a similar message like that of the Washington Post, which reported: “Brian Williams will return to NBC News but will no longer serve as anchor of its signature newscast, ‘Nightly News,’ various media outlets reported Wednesday evening. Lester Holt, who has anchored the program since Williams was suspended in February, will continue to be the face of the program.”
Precisely what Williams will do at MSNBC remains in doubt, according to the Post. “It’s unclear what role he’ll fulfill or when he will resume working at the network,” the paper reported. Back when MSNBC debuted in 1996, Williams was its lead anchor. It is hard to imagine him being willing to go back to the obscure position he held two decades ago.
The bigger question, though, is what is NBC really thinking? For years MSNBC has been the most overtly political of all the major news site. It is a network whose schedule is chock full of left-wing activists like Al Sharpton and overtly partisan hacks like Chris Matthews rather than traditional journalists.
Is MSNBC now being re-imagined as a network that is appropriate only for liars and fabulators? MSNBC has long been plagued by ratings problems, and its declining viewership was recently been found to be “down double digits,” according to TV Newser. During key times of the day, the network cannot even reach six digits in national viewership numbers.
One of the most intriguing questions concerning the mission of MSNBC came from the Daily Beast, which blazed the headline, “Why is Brian Williams Good Enough for MSNBC, but not NBC?”
Is Williams’ purported move designed to bolster MSNBC or to simply finish it off? Regardless , one has to wonder out loud, what does this move say about NBC’s news organizations when it comes to the importance of veracity in journalism?