That’s according to Howard Kurtz, who writes, “Brian Williams does not face investigation, stepped aside voluntarily, source says”:
The move on Saturday, developed in consultation with the NBC brass, was not a thinly disguised suspension. In fact, no one, including NBC News President Deborah Turness, suggested that Williams take time off, this person says.
What’s more, according to the source, NBC is not conducting an internal investigation of its anchor, as has been widely reported. The network is engaging in journalistic fact-gathering so it can respond to questions about the crisis created by Williams’ false story about having been in a helicopter in Iraq that was hit by a rocket-propelled grenade. That means there will be no report with a finding on his conduct, this person says.
Williams knows that he needs to address the situation beyond the botched apology this week that made matters worse. And he has a prime forum coming up: An appearance scheduled for Thursday on CBS’s “Late Show” with David Letterman.
Williams is strongly considering keeping the appearance and using it as an opportunity to clear the air and address the lingering questions, the source says, but no final decision has been made.
Ironically, the anchor will be sitting in the same chair where he told Letterman the false Iraq story in 2013—a clip that has been widely replayed to show that he has repeatedly claimed to have been in the downed Chinook.
At Big Journalism, John Nolte ponders what Williams cashing in his get-out-of-jail -free card with Letterman implies. As he asks, “Because this is all one big fat joke to Williams and NBC News, right?”
If you think about it, though, it does make perfect sense.
There have been numerous reports about how Williams, like no other news anchor before him, “fervently courted celebrity.” And it now appears as though that is exactly how Williams sees himself — not as a news man and managing editor of the most-watched nightly news telecast on television; but as Hugh Grant — a celebrity, a star — a guy who can run to a comedy show and HumbleCharm his way out of a career-ending scandal by taking some pre-scripted barbs from a comedian.
Reading a teleprompter for 20 minutes a night is only part of Brian Williams’ celebrity job. The main part is yukking it up with David Letterman and Jon Stewart and Jimmy Fallon with slow jams, exaggerated “war hero” anecdotes, and digging-his-toe-in-the-dirt confessionals to get out of career jail.
At the Washington Post, Erik Wemple investigates another lie Williams told during his disastrous appearance on David Letterman’s show in 2013:
Amid talk of the incoming fire, Williams supplied this detail: “Our captain took a Purple Heart injury to his ear in the cockpit.”
The Purple Heart is a military decoration for those who are killed or wounded in combat. Chris Simeone, in a first-person piece in the New York Post, claims to have piloted the Chinook that transported Williams and his NBC News crew. Contrary to Williams’s claims — in that Letterman appearance, among other venues — that his helicopter sustained “AK-47 and RPG” fire from the enemy on the ground, Simeone says the flight was “uneventful.” That means no injuries, which also means … “I do not have a Purple Heart, and my ears are just fine,” wrote Simeone in the New York Post.
Other members of the Chinook crew that allegedly transported Williams & Co. insist that the helicopter took absolutely no incoming fire. “No we were not shot at. We took NO enemy fire,” Joseph Miller told the Omaha World-Herald.
As Nolte asks:
Is Brian Williams a news man, or not?
Is NBC News a news division, or not?
We’ve known the answer to that second question for nearly a decade now:
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In the late 1960s, Lily Tomlin’s career was launched on NBC’s Laugh-In, where one of her recurring characters was a snippy, matronly phone company operator, in the era when Bell Telephone really was a nationwide monopoly. One of her catchphrases was, “We don’t care, we’re the phone company.”
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While today’s Big Three TV networks are no longer monopolies either, they essentially are to the eight to ten million elderly viewers left who still watch each network’s evening news shows, because they can’t get on the Internet.
In contrast, on Twitter this week, blogger Ace of Spades asked his followers: when was the last time you watched a network nightly news broadcast? For me, the last time I voluntarily watched an NBC, CBS or ABC nightly news show was probably in the mid-1990s, prior to my first cable modem. Other than the half-hour of CNN I’m force-fed nightly at the gym, whenever I write about a disaster on TV news, it’s because they’ve been caught by Drudge, NewsBusters, Mediaite or another video aggregation site, and if you’re reading this post, chances are the same holds true for you as well.
As I joked with my wife last night, it’s quite a 21st century media world when I trust a guy whose handle is “SooperMexican,” and whose Twitter avatar is a masked professional wrestler, more than I do the news division and the cable networks associated with 90-year-old National Broadcast Company. But once trust is lost, it’s nearly impossible to get it back without a thorough housecleaning of all of the responsible — or in this case irresponsible — players.
Which NBC’s brass can’t be bothered to do, if Kurtz’s source is correct, lest they risk losing the audience they hold captive at 6:30 to another TV network. If so, NBC has come full-circle; they’re where Tomlin’s phone company was in the late ’60s and ’70s. They’ve got a monopoly on their viewers, and as long as that lasts, they don’t care if they’re lying to them or not. Do their viewers? As Iowahawk tweeted last night:
I used to quietly laugh at my grandma for believing pro wrestling. Now I quietly laugh at my mom for believing the network news.
— David Burge (@iowahawkblog) February 7, 2015
And in her last years, before she passed away in in 2012 at age 87, I could certainly picture my own mother thinking, “I don’t care if Williams lied. He looks nice. He sounds nice. He has nice hair. And he’s on before Wheel of Fortune at 7:00. I’m sticking with him.” Is that the calculation NBC is making? We’ll know soon enough, but it does seem like the most NBC thing for NBC to do at this point, doesn’t it? Update (3:55 PM Pacific): NBC wisely talks Williams into cancelling his Letterman appearance on Thursday, according to the Politico:
According to the people with knowledge of the situation, the instinct at the top of NBC and Comcast, its corporate parent, has been to try to preserve the asset: Williams is No. 1 at 6:30 p.m. by a wide margin, and “Nightly” is NBC’s only consistently dominant newscast newscast. The sense inside NBC News has been that Williams is too big to fail: He’s just too valuable, and there’s no obvious replacement. One of these people emphasized in an interview with Playbook that there is no suspension, and there was no discussion of a suspension. This was Brian’s idea, and he took a pen and wrote yesterday’s statement himself, the person said. Brian is very remorseful — he has apologized, and likely will again, the person added.
Williams can apologize all he wants, but “There is no such thing as partial credibility. Once a source has proven that they are willing to lie — deliberately and consciously — they lose all credibility,” as Stacy McCain wrote at the end of last year regarding the now-infamous fables penned by the co-worker at HBO alongside Williams’ daughter. One question that’s been repeatedly asked over the past week is this: Is Brian Williams a newsman or an entertainer? If this report in the Boston Herald is true, the answer is most assuredly the latter:
Another boost to NBC’s brand: Brian Williams blew off Medal of Honor banquet to do an SNL cameo. http://t.co/lTEjSoRMg8
— Jimmy (@JimmyPrinceton) February 8, 2015
And note this humble brag from Williams, describing in an interview one of the souvenirs that may or may not be in his “man cave”:
Brian Williams owns a piece of the helicopter that crashed in the Bin Laden raid. Well, according to Brian Williams. http://t.co/G6bCkfPimu
— rdbrewer (@rdbrewer4) February 8, 2015