The six-month suspension for Williams announced yesterday was a good PR move by the news division at NBC, which has been under siege since questions first surfaced two weeks ago about Williams’ account of an incident in Iraq in which he had claimed to have been on a helicopter that came under enemy fire.
Outright firing Williams at this stage would look like a kneejerk reaction to a matter that has been the subject of whispers for years but still somehow flew under the radar until recently. The suspension allows NBC News to continue its review of the Iraq incident and other reporting done by Williams that now has to be viewed in a different light in view of the revelations about the Iraq story without having Williams and his status serve as a distraction on the nightly news.
Even if that review turns up nothing else questionable in Williams’ reporting over the years, and I have no reason to assume at this stage that it will, that the Iraq story was anything more than a story that just kept getting better with the retelling over the years, even then, Williams still no longer has any value as a nightly-news anchor and managing editor.
The reason there is probably clear. NBC News would never be able to report on anything remotely controversial on Williams’ watch without having critics from all corners raising issue with credibility based on this episode, fair or unfair as that would be.
Which isn’t to say that Williams can’t have continued value to NBC. He can be transitioned to a role perhaps on Dateline NBC, as a contributor to the Today show, maybe given his own talk show. (The Seth Myers experiment at 12:35 a.m. isn’t working out so well, for instance.)
And if NBC decides to sever ties with Williams, then it could make some sense for Viacom and Comedy Central to look in his direction, maybe as a replacement for Jon Stewart on “The Daily Show,” or to fill the slot currently being wasted with the vapid “Nightly Show with Larry Wilmore,” already on its last legs a few weeks into its poorly-executed rollout.
That is the future for Brian Williams. He’s an entertainer now.
– Column by Chris Graham