The wages of journalistic sin, at least in the case of Brian Williams, are six months without wages — and without an office. Per an e-mail from NBC Universal, Williams will come back in late September, while Lester Holt fills in as anchor:
We have decided today to suspend Brian Williams as Managing Editor and Anchor of NBC Nightly News for six months. The suspension will be without pay and is effective immediately. We let Brian know of our decision earlier today. Lester Holt will continue to substitute Anchor the NBC Nightly News.
Our review, which is being led by Richard Esposito working closely with NBCUniversal General Counsel Kim Harris, is ongoing, but I think it is important to take you through our thought process in coming to this decision.
While on Nightly News on Friday, January 30, 2015, Brian misrepresented events which occurred while he was covering the Iraq War in 2003. It then became clear that on other occasions Brian had done the same while telling that story in other venues. This was wrong and completely inappropriate for someone in Brian’s position.
In addition, we have concerns about comments that occurred outside NBC News while Brian was talking about his experiences in the field.
As Managing Editor and Anchor of Nightly News, Brian has a responsibility to be truthful and to uphold the high standards of the news division at all times.
Steve Burke, Pat Fili and I came to this decision together. We felt it would have been wrong to disregard the good work Brian has done and the special relationship he has forged with our viewers over 22 years. Millions of Americans have turned to him every day, and he has been an important and well-respected part of our organization.
As I’m sure you understand, this was a very hard decision. Certainly there will be those who disagree. But we believe this suspension is the appropriate and proportionate action.
This has been a difficult time. But NBC News is bigger than this moment. You work so hard and dedicate yourselves each and every day to the important work of bringing trusted, credible news to our audience. Because of you, your loyalty, your dedication, NBC News is an organization we can – and should – all be proud of. We will get through this together.
Steve Burke asked me to share the following message.
“This has been a painful period for all concerned and we appreciate your patience while we gathered the available facts. By his actions, Brian has jeopardized the trust millions of Americans place in NBC News. His actions are inexcusable and this suspension is severe and appropriate. Brian’s life’s work is delivering the news. I know Brian loves his country, NBC News and his colleagues. He deserves a second chance and we are rooting for him. Brian has shared his deep remorse with me and he is committed to winning back everyone’s trust.”
Note well that this announcement came not just from NBC News president Deborah Turness, but also from her boss, NBC Universal president Steve Burke. The Hollywood Reporter heard from multiple sources earlier today that the parent company had, er, exercised its authority in dealing with Turness and her team about Williams:
According to sources at the network, CEO Steve Burke along with NBCUniversal News Group CEOPat Fili-Krushel and NBC News chief Deborah Turness are considering a scenario that would include a lengthy suspension and full-throated apology from Williams. And a decision is likely to come this week, sources tell The Hollywood Reporter.
Williams was excluded from a meeting over the weekend with NBC executives, but he did meet with Burke at Burke’s Manhattan apartment on Tuesday morning, a meeting initiated by Burke. The two men are known to have a warm relationship; they regularly lunch together in the executive dining room at NBC’s 30 Rock headquarters.
And whether Williams can be saved also will reflect on Fili-Krushel and Turness, who was installed during the summer of 2013 by Fili-Krushel. Meanwhile, CNN has reported that Williams’ representative, Washington lawyer Robert Barnett, was spotted at 30 Rock on Monday.
The question now is this: what happens in six months? Lester Holt is a capable anchor, and will have six months to establish his credibility with the Nightly News audience. When the suspension ends, NBC will have Holt and six months of his efforts to rescue the network’s credibility, and then the guy who lied and got exiled for it. It may not be exactly like benching Lou Gehrig when Wally Pipp got to feeling better, but it’s similar — unless Holt screws up, at which point NBC should just hire Jon Stewart, who will become available roughly when Williams is eligible to come out of the penalty box.
Six months is a long time to leave an audience, especially under these circumstances. And here’s an Allahpundit-esque exit question: What happens when the next Williams false-narrative story emerges?
Update: Note that the review is “ongoing.” That leaves NBC Universal plenty of room to take further action.
Update: Is NBC Universal really planning on bringing Williams back? New York’s Gabriel Sherman reported earlier this evening that they were reviewing not just one story but a whole “dossier of Williams’ apparent lies“:
NBC News execs are currently deciding the fate of Brian Williams: TheNightly News anchor and his agent met with NBC Universal CEO Steve Burke in the last 24 hours, and were presented with a dossier of Williams’s apparent lies, according to sources. One can only imagine that Williams wishes his anchor escape plan had worked out and that he were the host ofThe Tonight Show right now. After NBC decided to move on from Jay Leno again a few years ago, according to two NBC insiders, Williams lobbied NBC executives to give him the host’s chair. “Brian wants to be a late-night comedian,” one former colleague explained. “He traded on being Nightly News anchorman-war-reporter to ingratiate himself with Jimmy, Lorne Michaels, and Jon Stewart.”
Now, of course, he’s become the subject of jokes rather than the one telling them. The meeting with Burke seems to be part of NBC’s effort to resolve the metastasizing crisis, whether that involves cutting him loose, a lengthy suspension, or a detailed on-air mea culpa. One high-placed source told me this afternoon that Williams is likely to face a “severe punishment” but will hang on. A spokeswoman for NBC News declined to comment; Williams’s agent, Bob Barnett, did not return a call or email seeking comment.
While the speed of Williams’s crash has stunned NBC staffers — “the cannibalism that’s going on here is so ferocious,” one told me — many people inside NBC News knew about Williams’s tendency to exaggerate the now-infamous helicopter ride in Iraq. “He was never a field reporter. He was incredibly insecure about it,” one former NBC News staffer said, speculating about why he felt the need to exaggerate.
Politico’s Dylan Byers thinks it looks grim for Williams’ future … and not just his:
Brian Williams probably isn’t coming back. Consider the next six months an audition for Lester Holt, the weekend anchor who will now substitute for Williams in his “absence.” Meanwhile, the execs at Comcast/NBC will be hard at work considering an alternative replacement if Holt can’t sustain the ratings. …
The Williams’ fiasco hurts everyone at NBC, especially coming in the wake of the Ann Curry fiasco and the David Gregory fiasco. As I reported earlier this week, the knives will now be out for NBC News executives. Attention will turn toward NBC News President Deborah Turness, but the person who truly bears responsibility for NBC’s woes is her boss, NBC News Group Chairman Pat Fili-Krushel.
This does seem like a stop-gap measure, a way for the executives to gain some breathing room. We’ll see if NBC Universal makes even more room at NBC News HQ.