Principled editorial decision or canny programming move?
Whatever it was, NBC News staffers got a morale boost last week when the network bigs opted to start calling the fighting in Iraq a “civil war.”
Peacock sources say the change in nomenclature, announced by Matt Lauer on Nov. 27, “vindicated the reporting” in Iraq and provided a boost to a group dispirited by weeks of layoffs.
Because Lauer made the call on “Today,” it provided a jumping-off point for MSNBC to spend a day chewing over the topic, playing into its post-election strategy of all-politics, all-the-time.
It was a debate in which NBC’s competitors couldn’t easily participate without criticizing the decision, which Fox News did on the air, and CBS and ABC execs did in interviews.
But the question remained why the Peacock didn’t have Brian Williams make the call on “Nightly News.” The debate at NBC is said to have gained steam over the weekend after hundreds of civilians were killed in violence the previous week, and little thought was given to strategy for disclosing it.
Once the decision was made, NBC News wanted to pull the trigger to rev up the news cycle. They knew they were dropping a bomb on “Today,” but as the week wore on, were surprised at how quickly the fallout evaporated.
“The media wanted to cast it as some big moment, but it wasn’t,” says one NBC staffer. Says another: “The thought was: What is everyone else waiting for?”