NBC News announced Thursday that disgraced anchor Brian Williams will return to the air in a diminished role, covering breaking news for cable outlet MSNBC, as well as filling in for his “NBC Nightly News” replacement, Lester Holt, when Holt is “not available.”
In mid-February, Williams was bounced from his post as anchor and managing editor of the evening broadcast and was put on an unpaid, six-month suspension for lying about his experiences as a reporter. He’s quoted in NBC’s press release as saying, “I’m sorry. I said things that weren’t true. I let down my NBC colleagues and our viewers, and I’m determined to earn back their trust.”
However, NBC executives didn’t exactly say that they were sorry. From the same press release: “The statements in question did not for the most part occur on NBC News platforms or in the immediate aftermath of the news events, but rather on late-night programs and during public appearances, usually years after the news events in question.”
As former ABC News Correspondent Brian Rooney wrote in his online newsletter The Rooney Report, “In other words, nothing Williams said affected news coverage, only his credibility, which is all a reporter has.”
So what message is NBC News sending here? Spin your tall tales on the “Tonight Show” and you get a pass? We can believe what we watch on NBC News, but not on MSNBC?
According to NBC Universal CEO Steve Burke, “This matter has been extensively analyzed and deliberated on by NBC.”
Of course it has. And this former journalist has a sneaking suspicion that if Holt falls short in the Nielsen ratings and Williams’ favorably ratings bounce back in a big way (his redemption tour began Friday with a taped interview with Matt Lauer airing on NBC’s “Today” show in the morning and again on “Nightly News” in the evening), Bri Wi will be back in our living rooms and on our phones before we know it.