The Absolution of Brian Williams Will Happen

Brian Williams forgiveness return to TV
Variety

In the carefully orchestrated world that has been the Brian Williams Reputation Rehabilitation Tour, no move made by the disgraced NBC News anchor can be interpreted as mere happenstance.

Even his first assignment back on the air Tuesday covering the U.S. visit of Pope Francis is subject to interpretation. Is linking Williams with a holy man who preaches tolerance and forgiveness intended to send a subtle suggestion to skeptical viewers?

Williams will provide a fascinating test of America’s capacity for absolution–far from a sure thing for someone smacked with a six-month suspension for multiple lies he told doing a job that demands truth.

But tell Pope Francis that the most surprising resurrection since Jesus himself is close at hand: The redemption of Brian Williams will happen.

That may be hard to believe. The multi-month media storm that enveloped him, particularly his crucifixion via social media, may have been so intense as to have irrevocably lowered Williams’ standing among viewers. His attempts at apology have been poorly received. And Williams has fallen so far from his broadcast throne, consigned to the day shift on the network where he rose to prominence. MSNBC isn’t even giving him his own show, just vaguely defined breaking-news duties.

Oh, the indignity.

But what might seem a demotion is really just a hedge on the part of NBC News chief Andrew Lack, who wants nothing more than to bring back Williams to his former glory. And if he can use him to help resuscitate struggling MSNBC by re-positioning the network as more of a daytime destination for breaking news, all the better.

But rather than throwing Williams into the deep end by giving him his own program only to watch it sink in the event his reputation proves irreparable, the breaking-news assignment is Lack’s shrewd way of having Williams dip a toe back in rather diving head first. Coming out of the gate with something like “The Brian Williams News Hour” would have risked MSNBC and Williams coming across arrogantly presumptuous, as if they thought he could just pick up where he left off as if nothing happened.

Too much Williams too soon would be rejected by viewers quicker than a mismatched organ transplant.

And what better way for Williams to endear himself again by limiting him to the very thing he does best: delivering the top stories from the anchor desk. It will remind viewers of why they loved him in the first place and begin to put some distance between him and his scandal.

Yes, his every move on will be scrutinized for signs of the flaws that brought him down in the first place. Twitter-fueled memes mocking his fabrications will flourish for a good while. But then that joke will get old.

So here’s how this will all play out: Williams will be scrutinized at first. He may even stumble a time or two in a way that will make people wonder why NBC News ever thought of bringing him back. But in time, critics will put away their knives and he’ll earn praise for his smooth handling of one big breaking-news event or another. MSNBC will start to do better as well.

Prediction: Lack gives Williams his own show in daytime in the latter half of next year; he’ll add an hour in primetime in 2017.

He won’t ever reclaim the glory of an being evening-news anchor. But then again that role is not what it used to be, and never will be again. His MSNBC berth will actually probably be a better fit for him than the TelePrompter trot that is the evening news, giving him the opportunity to show a little range, inject more personality.

Sure, there’s always the risk that Williams could get caught fibbing again. But that’s not going to happen; knowing another slip-up would certainly end his career for good has a way of keeping a man honest.

Something else will motivate Williams to keep his nose clean. At 56, he still has enough runway left before the end of career to avert what he probably fears most: having this scandal mentioned in the first sentence of his obituary. This is a man who will do anything in the next decade to minimize his biggest mistake.

Redemption won’t come overnight, but rest assured it will come. It will happen so subtly you won’t notice it until one day Williams will get some positive press, and the scandal so sharp in our minds right now will be a dim memory.

Which isn’t to say that all that is going on here is that the passage of time blunts our sense of outrage. That is true to some extent, but there’s more to Williams’ rehabilitation than that.

What’s also at play here is that the one thing America loves more than knocking someone off their pedestal is hoisting them back up there when they’ve repented for their sins. All but his most strident critics will join the sizable fan base that never left him in the first place in rooting for his comeback.

But if the redemption of Williams still seems far-fetched, just consider Dan Rather. Making the rounds last week at the Toronto Film Festival, the former CBS anchor is seeing the scandal that snuffed his own storied news career get depicted in a new movie, “Truth,” that offers a more sympathetic depiction than he’s ever been treated to before. Whoever would have thought Rather would get an opportunity to have the world see Rathergate anew in a different light.

If Rather can restore his reputation in the twilight years of his career, just imagine what Williams can do at a time when he could still be in his prime. But while Rather settles for a satisfying coda, Williams can still write the third act of his own movie.

In the grand scheme of Williams’ career, the headlines will eventually shrink to a footnote. No one will forget, but as Pope Francis might have preached, many will forgive.

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  1. Ken Fletcher says:

    It takes one, to know one?

  2. Joe Barcelona says:

    Takes one to know one???

    “Andrew Wallenstein
    Co-Editor-in-Chief
    @awallenstein”

  3. Patricia Henry says:

    He will be back…… and be even BETTER!

  4. Ima Right says:

    pmsnbc? the ‘forward’ left leaning progressive propaganda network with no ratings. good fit.

  5. Greg Joseph says:

    If only the Muppets were still on. Now THAT’S a beginning. And they’ll believe anything.

  6. carlene says:

    Expect a whopper on every show. Like finding Waldo.

  7. BIlly Bob says:

    It’s embarrassing they didn’t just get rid of this hack.

  8. skyangl55 says:

    It’s been 6 long months without watching the Nightly News with Brian Williams and finally the wait is over and I will continue to watch B.Williams wherever he broadcasts the news from.To me this man does the news like no other in the business.If you remember Peter Jennings I would rate him and Brian as being the very best at what they do and did .Welcome back Brian ,as having to interview the Pope as your first assignment back on the job ,I’d say you are on the road to forgiveness !!!!

  9. charcramer says:

    No, the redemption will not happen ever. At least for me.

  10. carlene says:

    Im afraid Brian will have a psychic split and dress like the Pope and show up in a white Gwagon- you never know!!!! Beware OMG lol

  11. carlene says:

    Brian Williams was in the Seminary with the Pope no wonder the Pope Begged Brian to visit with him. . BTW to Brians credit he gave the Pope advice on how to handle Global Warming. While Brian was on leave he took a Phd @ Csl Tech dissertation on Global Warming.

  12. Jeff Barge says:

    Everyone is allowed at least one conspiracy theory, so count this as yours!

  13. Greggan says:

    Those in the news media tends to think the public gives a damn about them. It doesn’t. Put Williams back on the air in any position. He’s just another overpaid talking head with an inflated ego. Nobody will know the difference.

  14. spike says:

    Hey, the rest of you lie cheat and steal so why not Brian.

  15. Bill says:

    He did not embellish anything while on his own news program, these were comments from other interviews, etc. I miss having him on NBC! Bring him back, I do not care what the hell happened, he sounds good when reporting the news.

    • carlene says:

      Bring him back in time his pennance is to tell us that Hillary is best human being on the planet and recite poll ratings that dont exist. He will push anything as long as he gets his dressing room back with the star on it. If Sharpton can be a journalist by putting a suit on Anything is possible in Hollywood.

  16. Elaine Butler says:

    My husband and I were regular nightly news watchers. We stopped watching NBC News when they took Brian Williams off.

  17. Donna says:

    Williams is no longer credible and his presence with the Pope is not going to augment forgiveness!

  18. Way, way too long a story! It’s not even a story worthy of our attention. The “rehabilitation” of such an unethical journalist is not only wrong, but should be directly challenged. Who needs him? Certainly not viewers. Why there should be such a boring and lengthy “analysis” explaining why Brian Williams’ lack-of-integrity should be forgiven is beyond comprehension. He does not deserve to be a journalist on any level. He’s a fraud. Stop being complicit in his game.

    • JSB says:

      Wasn’t it written in the Bible that “the lies shall set you free” – ? This Andy Lack has cojones of marshmallow – pathetic display of standing up for nothing. What kind of lesson about ethics in journalism does this teach kids? Chet & David must be rolling in their graves.

  19. lucero Z says:

    Williams mislead many people by portraying himself as a man of integrity and dignity in his news reporting………but he got caught and of course he apologized. Sorry, he had his chance as we all do. But, only Hollywood and television gamble and use
    this type of deceiving conduct to attempt to bring higher ratings.

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