Really? It looks more like NBC Universal wants to get as much distance from Brian Williams and what looks like a track record of serial fabrication and exaggeration, some of which made it onto the NBC Nightly News with which they entrusted their 10-year veteran anchor and managing editor. Fox’s Howard Kurtz believes that the six-month suspension Williams got last night without pay will be a harsh enough punishment for Williams to provoke a sympathetic response on his eventual return — a set-up for an eventual redemption story that will melt America’s heart.
Well, that’s one theory:
If that’s really the strategy at NBC Universal, it sounds akin to the infamous quote from an unnamed Army officer in the Mekong Delta: We have to destroy the career in order to save it. A one-month suspension without pay would be penance, too, with all of the requisite public humiliation it would entail. That leaves an impression that any arrangements made for business continuity would be temporary. It would provide plenty of time for NBC’s investigators (or cover team, depending on your level of cynicism) to review all of the Williams material now emerging that has the whiff of fabulism or exaggeration to be fully fact-checked. Unless there’s just an overwhelming amount of it, that is, which would necessarily force a transition from temporary to permanent.
A six-month suspension is another matter. New routines will be established, older networking within and outside the organization will get replaced, and most importantly, viewers will get used to Lester Holt in the anchor seat. In fact, NBC has to hope that the audience will bond with Holt in order to keep their ratings up. Six months down the line, they would then have to break that bond and try to get the same audience (or more likely a smaller one) to bond again with Williams after a six-month hiatus. That would be difficult even if the leave was needed for medical reasons, but for a suspension prompted by Williams’ own dishonesty? Good luck making that sale. This leaves Williams’ career all but dead at NBC, unless Holt spectacularly flames out and they run out of other options.
Another measure of NBC’s opacity in this decision comes from its other news division. Rachel Maddow announced the decision on her prime-time MSNBC show, and lamented the fact that NBC News execs wouldn’t appear on a show on their own network to discuss it (via Daniel Halper):
And here’s the awkward part for us. I said at the top this was a little awkward, here’s why this is awkward for us on this show and for me as its anchor: So we are MSNB. The NBC in that means that we operate under the NBC umbrella, and there’s a good reason why you see so many faces from NBC News on our air. It’s because we really are working partners with them, we are working partners, we’re a partner organization with them within the news division.
But tonight even as we are reporting on this breaking news about the news division of which we are a part, no, NBC News will not make anyone available to discuss this story with us on the air. Now that may change in days ahead. You would think that if they’re going to talk to anybody about this, we might reasonably get a leg up on getting interviews with any NBC News executives to explain this decision. If only because we’re right down the hall. But so far, no one. I hope in days to come that that might change, but as of yet, we are not talking to NBC News executives about this yet. I live in hope.
They seem to be hoping that the story will fade away in the next few weeks. That doesn’t sound like an organization that’s enthusiastic about putting Williams back on top of its nightly newscasts in the future.