Report: Brian Williams to be "the face of MSNBC"

Back in March, facing abysmal ratings and poor revenue, MSNBC head Phil Griffin announced that they were going to focus more on news and less on bombast. Some of their “opinion journalism” faces were removed and others are still expected to get the ax. But if you really want to rebrand the network, clearly you’ll want a big, symbolic figure of journalistic integrity to let people know you’re serious. So of course, you’d probably go with Brian Williams. (From CNN, emphasis added.)

NBC and Williams have come to a tentative agreement that will keep Williams at the network after his six-month suspension ends in August, people with knowledge of the agreement said. It will likely be announced sometime Thursday.

Williams will not be returning to the “NBC Nightly News” anchor chair; his fill-in Lester Holt will become the program’s permanent anchor…

So what will Williams do? His portfolio will include a position on MSNBC, NBC’s struggling cable news channel. “He will be the face of MSNBC,” handling big breaking news stories, one of the people said on condition of anonymity.

Early last month, as NBC continued to struggle with the question of what to do with Williams once his suspension was up, I hazarded a guess that the network would pay off his contract and let him fade off into private life. None of the deals on the table at the time seemed like a very good option for either NBC News or Williams. But if this report is accurate, chalk up another big miss for me in the prognostication game. But if this is really the plan, what are the main players expecting to get out of it?

How do you just stroll past everything that’s happened? The source being cited by CNN mentions the possibility of a sit-down interview setting for Williams to show remorse and start to turn the page. I suppose that sounds fine in theory, but there’s still a lot of spilled milk on the floor. A “sit down interview” is just going to rip the scabs off of the whole story again rather than inspiring some new confidence in Brian having reached an epiphany and being ready to knuckle down on the purity of his calling. And in a way, that’s sort of sad for Williams. As I’ve said before, it was never really his reporting that came under fire, but his “fun” interviews where he talked about himself rather than the news. But the damage is still done.

As for Williams himself, it’s surprising to me that he’d even consider this move. Back in the nineties he started out with the company working an evening gig on MSNBC. After that he moved up to NBC News and and finally landed in the big chair. Going to Griffin’s operation has got to feel like being sent back to the kids’ table for someone who has stood on top of the mountain. But who knows? Maybe Williams just has the need to be doing the news on television engrained so deeply in his blood that he’d rather take anything than go home and retreat to obscurity with a big asterisk next to his name in the annals of journalism.