Lester Holt will take over the anchor chair at NBC’s “Nightly News” permanently, while Brian Williams takes another position in the organization in the wake of his disclosure earlier this year that he falsified details of a reporting trip to Iraq, according to press reports released Wednesday night.
NBC News declined to comment on the reports, made by CNN and The Wall Street Journal. Robert Barnett, an attorney for Brian Williams who has represented him in negotiations with NBC, also declined to comment after being emailed Wednesday evening.
Williams’ fate remains uncertain, though The New York Times reported Thursday he could move to MSNBC, the cable-news network also owned by parent NBCUniversal.
The moves, which the reports suggested could be announced as early as Thursday, would help stem a period of tumult for NBC News. The NBCUniversal unit has seen its flagship evening newscast lose in the ratings to ABC News’ “World News Tonight,” anchored by David Muir. Season to date, the ABC newscast has edged out “Nightly News” in the audience most coveted by advertisers, viewers aged 25 to 54.
NBC News has yet to disclose to the public the results of an investigation into Williams’ behavior, the scope of which included not only his false descriptions of a ride aboard a Chinook helicopter, but also certain descriptions of events he purported to take part in during travels for NBC News. The company is clearly banking on the idea that the wide appeal Williams had with viewers will endure if it removes him from a position where trust and credibility are paramount. ABC News faced a similar issue recently its chief anchor, George Stephanopoulos, disclosed he had made charitable donations to the Clinton Foundation without telling viewers, even when those contributions could create the perception of a bias.
If Williams is received well by viewers, he could lend a boost to MSNBC, which has struggled with ratings as of late against rivals Fox News Channel and CNN. The network has reworked its daytime schedule to focus more heavily on breaking news while reserving is primetime schedule for personalities who view events through a progressive or liberal lens.
Holt, meantime, has held his own with Muir, sometimes winning more overall viewers to the NBC newscast week by week. NBC has not lent his newscast any promotion since he took the reins of the program from Williams in February.
Meantime, the anchor has scored some noticeable scoops, including an exclusive interview with the bystander who captured video of a South Carolina police officer shooting Walter Scott, and even led the newscast one evening from a seat in a helicopter. If Holt can keep his facts straight about the chopper, he will likely enjoy his tenure in the anchor seat.