After Other News Scandals, Brian Williams Looks Better, and NBC Looks Worse

Brian Williams Nightly News Replacement

While it would be unseemly, Brian Williams should probably send fruit baskets to George Stephanopoulos and Bill O’Reilly. Because while the onetime NBC News anchor’s crimes against journalism can be viewed a bit less severely with the benefit of hindsight, his network’s sluggish handling of the controversy looks considerably worse.

Essentially, NBC spent more than four months being peppered by uncomfortable questions after suspending Williams for embellishing tales in TV interviews — apparently to buff up his image and be more entertaining on talk shows – to get back to the place where the situation appeared to be headed all along. Williams doesn’t deserve to be drummed out of the TV news business entirely, but he’s no longer fit to serve as the premiere face of NBC News, even in the slightly devalued real estate of nightly news.

NBC can be given some latitude for wanting to conduct a thorough investigation, and ensure there were no egregious sins — or major surprises — yet to be uncovered. Yet at a certain point, it became clear the network was doing all it could to find some way to retain Williams, while dragging its feet on determining an actual role.

All that did, alas, was diminish Lester Holt as Williams’ replacement while he endured a kind of limbo, and create a general perception of paralysis and indecision. And if part of that could be blamed on Williams and his representatives pushing back against efforts to demote him, any decent card player would have eventually called the anchor’s bluff, given the truncated list of more appealing options available to him.

As for the aforementioned Stephanopoulos and O’Reilly, both were involved in controversies during the intervening months, only to have their networks circle the wagons around them and offer unqualified support. O’Reilly staunchly defended himself against allegations that he inflated his own war-reporting credentials, blaming the messengers. But there was enough evidence to look into the matter further had Fox not chosen to brush the whole thing off.

By contrast, Stephanopoulos apologized for his charitable donations to the Clinton Foundation — a different sort of offense, but nevertheless a major lapse in judgment in terms of the optics given his history working for President Clinton. In essence, the anchor thoughtlessly handed ammunition to conservative critics who never trusted his political leanings or efforts to be impartial all along.

Neither case is completely analogous to what Williams did, but both speak to something less than perfection. And one has to wonder if NBC watched those controversies fade and experienced second thoughts about its initial response, starting with how Williams botched his on-air apology.

Perhaps foremost, NBC’s protracted process invited headaches, including the leaks that led right up to the official announcement. Although Andrew Lack was brought in to oversee NBC News and, among other things, resolve the situation and restore order, the destabilizing effects of the past several months won’t be put to rest by one press release.

“This matter has been extensively analyzed and deliberated on by NBC,” NBCUniversal CEO Steve Burke said in a statement announcing the move. “We are moving forward.” Unlike what got Williams into trouble, that first part, at least, exhibits a true gift for understatement.

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  1. tymtrvlr says:

    Whoever wrote this is a racist, because they are replacing mr blunderful with a black guy, paying him less than Williams was making.

  2. Jan USA says:

    What is astounding is how many professional media commentators/columnists view what Brian Williams did so charitably. What would have been said/written if a Walter Cronkite or a David Brinkley stepped over the VERY bright line that Brian Williams did? On top of that there is Brian Williams’ other worldly apology. He never actually says he lied/misled the public, instead he blames “ego” as if it were some third party. Boiled down to its essence, Williams is saying “yes, I lied, but I wasn’t to blame, I am a good guy, it was my nasty ego that did it.” What BS. The Question for NBC’s Steve Burke, Andy Lack, and in the end, Brian Williams is the awful message that’s being sent to aspiring journalists. “Lying is okay, so long as you don’t do it on the broadcast. Oops, Williams did that as ell. What will Williams say when he’s asked to speak to students – grade school, high school, college, journalism school – about the intersection of truth and journalism? Boggles the mind, huh? Finally, what does it say about MSNBC that Williams is kicked from the NBC brand to its struggling MSNBC brand? If MSNBCers could really speak their minds publicly, I doubt they would be overjoyed. This episode is a sad day for NBC’s once vaunted brand, but an even sadder day for journalism. Brian William should have done the honorable thing and resigned and moved on. Nope, Williams’ “ego” wouldn’t have allowed it.

  3. BillUSA says:

    Well, if FOX is guilty of brushing off the accusations against Bill O’Reilly, then so too is the rest of the world for letting it go. So…..this “evidence” might just be a tilted opinion of the man.

  4. cadavra says:

    Funny how most of the criticism of Stephanopoulos comes from a network run by a man who worked in the Nixon, Reagan and Bush White Houses. But, hey, no conflict of interest there!

  5. Geri says:

    To compare an employee of Fox “News” with a journalist is like comparing a lion with a jackal. And George is not a journalist either.

  6. srvwp2013 says:

    Cable, (and its 21st Century brethren) especially, network affiliated cable, has become the junkyard, the trash receptacle and further acreage of the vast wasteland that is network television. Cable is the new Gulag. The sign over the entrance reads: Abandon Hope All Ye Who Enter Here. Former “big shots” such as Brian, Katie, Dan and their peers and fellow degraded and disgraced colleagues now have their own little Circle of Hell in which to romp around.

  7. dmoney666 says:

    Sorry, but how exactly do you compare Stephanopolis and Williams to BILL O’REILLY?? O’Reilly is NOT a news anchor or even a news guy. He’s a COMMENTATOR. Even if he was and he lied about things in the past, it doesn’t matter now. He’s paid to give OPINIONS and not news.

    • dee says:

      Larry, the problem is the Fox viewers think he IS a news anchor.

    • Absolutely right. O’Reilly is a bloviator. He is paid to opine. You don’t watch him with the expectation of getting “ground truth.” While he touts a “No Spin Zone,” it is clear that Spin is the order of the day. Williams and Stephanopolis are news anchors for Christ’s sake. A different and higher standard.

      • BillUSA says:

        O’Reilly is a man who represents his beliefs. That they are Conservative in nature and heard amidst a vast wasteland of Liberal obfuscation says a lot about those who denigrate him for the very things the Liberal media has been doing for decades. If you don’t like the truth don’t try to make the teller out to be the Devil.

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