Ed Driscoll

Brian Williams Stepping Away From NBC Nightly News

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“Williams is stepping away from NBC Nightly News for a number of days,” according to the Hollywood Reporter:

The anchor sent a note to the show’s staff, announcing that Lester Holt is replacing him for an unspecified amount of time. The news comes as Williams is embroiled in a scandal surrounding his story about being a passenger in a helicopter that took fire in Iraq in 2003.

On Jan. 30, an NBC Nightly News clip was posted to Facebook in which Williams repeated a story he had told previously about having been in the helicopter that was hit and went down during the Iraq invasion. After the story was questioned, Williams apologized on Wednesday’s Nightly News, saying that his helicopter was following the one that was hit.

“I feel terrible about making this mistake, especially since I found my OWN WRITING about the incident from back in ’08, and I was indeed on the Chinook behind the bird that took the RPG in the tail housing just above the ramp,” Williams wrote on Facebook.

In a memo to staff on Friday, NBC News Deborah Turness wrote that a team of people was working to “make sense” of the incident.

In a statement that I’ve not made since Maureen Dowd wrote her William Burroughs-esque yarn last year, about totally tripping balls on a cannabis-infused chocolate bar in Denver, Maureen Dowd makes some interesting observations today — in this case, about what led to Williams’ downfall (link safe, goes to John Nolte at Big Journalism):

His was a bomb that had been ticking for a while.

NBC executives were warned a year ago that Brian Williams was constantly inflating his biography. They were flummoxed over why the leading network anchor felt that he needed Hemingwayesque, bullets-whizzing-by flourishes to puff himself up, sometimes to the point where it was a joke in the news division.

But the caustic media big shots who once roamed the land were gone, and “there was no one around to pull his chain when he got too over-the-top,” as one NBC News reporter put it.

It seemed pathological because Williams already had the premier job, so why engage in résumé inflation? And you don’t get those jobs because of your derring-do.

Ahh, but you do get those jobs because of your derring-do; as we mentioned yesterday, it’s part of the process of building the B-Roll and backstory that leads to your becoming a network anchorman ever since the days of Walter Cronkite.

But if you overdo those tales, or. worse, you make them and get caught as a serial lair, your brand is badly tarnished. And that’s very bad — because the goal for a TV anchorman is to be as blank a slate as possible. The big three TV networks, apparently because of the inertia of a corporate me-too culture whose roots date back to the first nationwide radio networks in the 1920s, believe that they’re providing the 6:30 news as a public service to their elderly core audience, which is why the nightly news anchor should be a man in his late 40s or older, with great hair, perfect teeth, a bespoke suit, excellent diction, an ability to emote when reading particularly dramatic news — and as little baggage as possible. He shouldn’t be an Olbermann-esque raver; he shouldn’t have a background as a Mencken-esque journalistic blowhard, and his politics should be those of a cypher. Comcast has MSNBC for those folks; but that’s now who you want as the face of your entire broadcast news division.

Instead, what the networks really want is someone with as few encumbrances on his reputation as possible to read material culled from the New York Times and the AP wire and programmed into a teleprompter, in-between ten minutes of commercials for Viagra, Depends, prostate medications and other material aimed at the dwindling number of grizzled low-information voters who become positively sick to their stomach just contemplating the aura of the penumbra of the notion of logging onto the Internet.*

Whether or not such a man has actually done anything before he clips on his network lavaliere and gets to sit in the big chair is really irrelevant, so long as it does not taint the network brand.**

Brian Williams fit that bill perfectly until this week.

In his weekly G-File (now online), Jonah Goldberg wrote that Williams’ self-made debacle isn’t as bad as Dan Rather’s spectacular anchor-da-fé in 2004, when Rather recklessly gambled it all on destroying President Bush and wound up immolating himself instead. But given NBC’s visceral hatred of the right ever since Jeff Zucker, Steve Capus, and Phil Griffin were running the show in the post-9/11 era, NBC has brought much of the damage upon themselves. Griffin is still in charge (or not, as the case may be) at MSNBC, and that spinoff channel in particular wrecked NBC’s reputation with half the country. Which is why many on the right dug in and searched through Williams’ every public utterance, as John Nolte tweeted today:

 

So what happens next? NBC’s very likely still trying to sort that out; Williams’ “voluntary” leave of absence is the network’s modified limited hangout, as the staffers for Dan Rather’s original bête noir would say. A way to buy some time. And a way to try out Lester Holt and see how the public responds. (As Jazz Shaw wrote this afternoon at Hot Air, “For some reason, I feel rather bad for Holt at this point. The headhunters have been smelling blood in the water for a while now, and it’s hard to turn off that appetite once it gets going. I imagine that somebody will be combing through all of Holt’s work for the rest of the weekend and looking for any questionable stories and such.”)

Can Williams return? Depends on how many cases of Vienna sausages he has to barter with, I suppose…

More seriously though, as Nolte forecasts, “there is simply no way back for Williams”:

It can get worse but it won’t get better.

In the good old days for the media, the days when an elite few controlled distribution of information, Williams could pay his penance and slip back to work after an Elite Few decided it was time. The world today is completely different. The New Media Brian Williams so despises has created legions of citizen journalists with access to instant distribution through the Internet.

It was a guy who calls himself SooperMexican who found most of the Katrina stories, not some credentialed “journalism”organization.

The elite gatekeepers won’t decide when this scandal is past; the American people will.

And while Williams’ lying in Iraq is what began his downfall, if Williams is indeed out, it’s rather appropriate that it was his fables regarding New Orleans that finished the job, considering that as with Dan Rather in 2004, the MSM as a whole threw everything into conflating Katrina into a second Iraq the following year, to pave the way for the Democrats’ return to both houses of Congress in 2006 and Obama winning the White House two years later. Like Rather before him, I wonder if Williams thinks his role in making it happen was worth the price he’s paying today.

* Or as Iowahawk tweeted today, “I used to quietly laugh at my grandma for believing pro wrestling. Now I quietly laugh at my mom for believing the network news.” I wish my own parents were alive to get their immediate take on Williams’ disaster, particularly since we watched NBC’s news shows the most when I was a kid.

** Why yes, that was intended to remind readers of the Obama bragging to his fellow Democrats before running for the presidency that “I serve as a blank screen on which people of vastly different political stripes project their own views.” And both serial liars have now been revealed as mannequins for expensive clothes with no emperors inside them.