Ed Driscoll

Apologizing for Losing Audience’s Trust, Brian Williams Moves to MSNBC

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“It’s official: Brian Williams is moving to MSNBC and Lester Holt will formally replace him as ‘NBC Nightly News’ anchor, NBC News and MSNBC chairman Andrew Lack announced today,” showbiz bible Variety reports; an appropriate source considering both the Orwellian nature of the Big Three’s TV news operations, and Williams’ desire to transform himself from a more-or-less trusted newsreader to the second coming of Jon Stewart or David Letterman:

Holt, who joined NBC in 2000, has been serving as the “Nightly News” anchor since Williams was suspended in February after allegations surfaced that he misrepresented his involvement in a 1993 reporting trip to Iraq.

“I’m sorry. I said things that weren’t true,” said Williams. “I let down my NBC colleagues and our viewers, and I’m determined to earn back their trust. I will greatly miss working with the team on ‘Nightly News,’ but I know the broadcast will be in excellent hands with Lester Holt as anchor. I will support him 100% as he has always supported me. I am grateful for the chance to return to covering the news. My new role will allow me to focus on important issues and events in our country and around the world, and I look forward to it.”

Lack and Steve Burke, CEO of NBCU, have decided that Williams will return to MSNBC — where he worked from 1996 to 2004 — as anchor of breaking news and special reports. He will work with Mark Lukasiewicz, SVP of Special Reports for NBCU News Group.

When you reverse the two phrases in Variety’s headline on the Williams story, “Brian Williams Moves to MSNBC, Apologizes for Losing Audience’s Trust,” as I did for my headline above, it all makes sense, doesn’t it? As Ed Morrissey writes today, “Media analysts wonder: What does Williams move say about MSNBC?”

It confirms an argument long made about MSNBC by conservatives, which is that it has no credibility as a news bureau, even while operating under the supervision of NBC News. In fact, assigning an anchor exposed as a serial fabulist to a position of the cable channel’s “face” of news coverage almost looks like an admission that MSNBC operates at a much lower level of credibility.

Ed quotes Bloomberg’s veteran media analyst Jack Shafer, who tweets, “Not good enough for NBC but good enough for MSNBC. How does that work?”

Well, MSNBC has long served as both NBC’s farm team, where, as Variety notes, Williams began his career with the network, but it’s also the place where NBC reporters can go to really let their biases hang out for all to see (QED: Andrea Mitchell, Chuck Todd) and where the network can dump fabulists such as Al Sharpton but still keep them on the payroll. (And in the case of Sharpton, pay him protection money to reduce the odds he’ll destroy one of their own again, as Sharpton did in 2007 to former MSNBC star Don Imus.) As I wrote last night, perhaps quietly tossing Williams down into the bowels of MSNBC makes more sense than a long-protracted tabloid fodder lawsuit between Williams and the network if they terminated his contract.

Meanwhile, “Washington Post media blogger Erik Wemple sounds distraught over CNN reporter Brian Stelter’s reporting that speculation around how NBC will use disgraced anchor Brian Williams is centering on MSNBC,” NewsBusters’ Tim Graham writes, spotting Wemple pleading in his headline, “Do not foist Brian Williams on MSNBC.”  As Graham writes, “Doesn’t MSNBC have enough problems?”

Putting aside the structural problem that liberals are splintered in their brand loyalties, MSNBC has caused a great deal of its struggles. Lifeless programming, tepid panel discussions, excessive liberal agreeing and the occasional nasty comment followed by an excellent apology — these are the dynamics that help to account for the cable channel’s worm-level ratings.

One problem it doesn’t need is Brian Williams. By one count, this is the guy who’s been busted by an internal investigation for 11 quite outrageous embellishments regarding his past. At the same time, Williams is a smooth news delivery vehicle with a high name recognition: If he is unloaded on MSNBC, how much worse can things get?

Considerably. MSNBC’s critics are a motivated bunch and are already busy enough with Ed Schultz, Chris Matthews & Co. Just watch what happens when Williams pilots a report having to do with Iraq or helicopters or Israel. Then again, there really aren’t a lot of places to hide a liability like Williams, whose six-month suspension is up in August. Newsrooms don’t designate set-asides for embellishers.

Now who’s being naive, Erik? As Graham writes in response, “Actually, CBS did let Dan Rather anchor the evening news for a few months after he disgraced himself in 2004, and didn’t dump him until the summer of 2006. It can be joked that every interview for Bill and Hillary Clinton is a ‘set-aside for embellishers.’ Remember ‘I dodged sniper fire in Bosnia?'” And Walter Cronkite had more than his share of “embellishments” during his two decades as CBS anchor, but the sites like NewsBusters, Hot Air and our own didn’t exist to call him out on his lies and biases during that era of monolithic mass media. More recently, ABC doesn’t seem to mind at all that George Stephanopoulos is a Hillary stalking horse posing as a journalist.

Regarding Williams, Ed Morrissey asks, “So [NBC’s Andrew Lack] has chosen a fabulist to lead MSNBC to the Promised Land of journalistic integrity and objectivity?”

 That would make for a hilarious joke under other circumstances, and actually is pretty amusing in this context, too. Consider this: NBC News has a stable full of talent to help them make that transition, ranging from foreign correspondents like Richard Engel to political analysts like Chuck Todd. For that matter, they could look outside the organization to woo upcoming talent away from competitors who have established credibility outside the NBC/MSNBC organization.

Rather than do that, they’ve decided to make Brian Williams the face of objective credibility at a cable channel so poorly considered that it’s become a joke in the industry. There’s only one possible reason for this decision, and that’s the money that it would take to shove Williams out the door.

In response to Erik Wemple’s cri de coeur at the Washington Post (home for several years for juiceVox ringleader Ezra Klein, self-admitted fabulist Matt Yglesias, and leftist posing as a conservative/libertarian Dave Weigel), Ed concludes, “if the plan is to hide Williams for the duration of his contract, there really isn’t any better place to put him.”

Heh, indeed — read the whole thing, as Ed’s co-speaker at the upcoming Bullets and Bourbon event in December would say.

Update: This is also equally heh-worthy:

And elsewhere at Hot Air, Jazz Shaw adds, “As for Williams himself, it’s surprising to me that he’d even consider this move:”

Back in the nineties he started out with the company working an evening gig on MSNBC. After that he moved up to NBC News and and finally landed in the big chair. Going to Griffin’s operation has got to feel like being sent back to the kids’ table for someone who has stood on top of the mountain. But who knows? Maybe Williams just has the need to be doing the news on television engrained so deeply in his blood that he’d rather take anything than go home and retreat to obscurity with a big asterisk next to his name in the annals of journalism.

Like Dan Rather joining HDNet, Mark Cuban’s comparatively obscure cable network in 2006 after the disgrace of RatherGate, or like an aging athlete who just wants a bit more time on the field and in the locker room with the lads (Unitas’ last season with the Chargers, Namath’s with the Rams, and Emmitt Smith’s last years with the Cardinals all come immediately to mind), what else did you expect him to do?

Not every disgraced public figure can be John Profumo.