CNN’s Brian Stelter reported on Sunday, May 31, 2015, that “this morning, my sources are pointing to a third option [besides returning to anchor ‘Nightly News’ or leaving the network], a new role for Williams. Not necessarily at ‘Nightly News,’ but somewhere else at NBC.”
Stelter, on the CNN show about media that he hosts, “Reliable Sources,” continued, “Now, these talks are still top secret inside the network and anything could happen, but NBC News’s new chairman Andy Lack is said to be advocating for this third option, this new role that would keep Williams in the fold. Now, presumably, that would keep Lester Holt at the ‘Nightly News’ anchor desk for the foreseeable future.”
Later in the program Stelter discussed this third option with David Zurawik, the Baltimore Sun’s TV critic and Andrew Wallenstein, the co-editor-in-chief of Variety. Both men have covered the TV business for years. It turned into a very lively debate.
First, remarks made by Zurawik: “As a journalist, Brian, I don’t think [Williams] can return to that anchor desk. He certainly can’t return as managing editor and anchor.”
Regarding the third option that Stelter brought up, Zurawik said, “I think NBC is floating a trial balloon and this is a good place to do that….So, this is sort – Andy Lack knows how to do this, and if they’re stuck with [Williams’ multi-year $10 million] salary in some ways, putting him in even a quasi-journalistic primetime show, something like ‘48 Hours’ or having him do interviews, I think that – I think that might work for them….[I]f Lack can pull that off, it’s a smart thing.”
Zurawik added, “But he’s got to get him out of the evening news – out of the ‘Nightly News for a whole bunch of reasons. [Williams’] journalistic credibility I think is shredded. It’s with military families, with millennials especially who are photo shopping him into any scene everywhere whenever there is [a] scene….But I think this third possibility sounds OK as long as it’s not journalism.”
STELTER: Don’t you think, though, Americans are fundamentally forgiving people. If enough time goes by, he can return to a news anchor job?
ZURAWIK: I hope not. Honestly, I’m serious, Brian. I think it’s part of a kind of malaise in this country that people on Wall Street who are too big to fail can do terrible things in 2007, 2008 to the economy and not be touched.
I think there’s a reason people were saying early on about Brian Williams, too big to fail. He’s going to get away with this.
I think Americans are really sick of that, heartsick in a way, and I think if they put him back in that anchor chair, they’re going to risk facing that kind of blowback from those people….
Soon Wallenstein said: “…here is the thing I don’t understand. Why would [Williams] be not OK on the anchor desk but you put him anywhere else and he’ll be just fine? I think that’s ridiculous.”
ZURAWIK: Because it’s an entertainment program, because he’s doing entertainment.
WALLENSTEIN: He faces a credibility problem. He faces a credibility problem –
ZURAWIK: Not if you’re doing ‘48 Hours’ introducing segments.
WALLENSTEIN: David, you’re being ridiculous.
ZURAWIK: No, it’s not ridiculous.
WALLENSTEIN: The fact of the matter is –
ZURAWIK: You can say ridiculous, it’s not ridiculous.
STELTER: Literally the debate that’s happening inside NBC about this.
Andrew, go ahead.
WALLENSTEIN: Listen, [Williams] needs to get out there and do what he has not done from the very beginning, which is address this problem head on at length, very specifically, show some contrition. If he doesn’t do any of these things, NBC could make him a correspondent on mars, and it will still be a problem.
ZURAWIK: It’s way too late for contrition. It’s way too late.
The debate continued. To read a complete transcript on the CNN site, please click here.