January 26, 2022

Brian Williams back to network news? Norah O’Donnell to cable? Or maybe it’s Williams back to cable?

The music is playing, and when it stops, you could see some interesting names scrambling for some very good chairs — anchor chairs, that is.

Let’s start with a real stunner.

CNN’s Oliver Darcy reported that CBS News reached out to Williams, the former NBC News and MSNBC anchor, to gauge his interest in taking over as anchor of the “CBS Evening News.” But Williams wasn’t interested.

That brings up two immediate questions. What does this mean for current “CBS Evening News” anchor Norah O’Donnell? And why would Williams turn down what has always been considered one of the best jobs in TV journalism?

Let’s hit the second question first. Darcy wrote, “Williams, the people I spoke to said, simply isn’t interested in the evening news job — which says a lot about not only Williams’ turn-of-fortune, but also the diminishing allure of anchoring a nightly broadcast news program, once considered to be one of the most prestigious positions in journalism.”

Translation: There might be a better job for Williams. And I’ll get to that later in the newsletter.

Now, what about O’Donnell? Darcy wrote, “Publicly, the network has supported O’Donnell. When the New York Post reported in October that she was in danger of losing her anchor spot, (CBS News president and co-head Neeraj) Khemlani went on the record to the tabloid and praised O’Donnell. And on Monday, when asked about whether she will stay in the anchor chair, Khemlani lauded her ratings and said that CBS has ‘no current plans to change’ what it is doing. But all of this begs the question: If CBS is so happy with O’Donnell, whose current contract is said to be up soon, why have they shopped her job to others?”

For the record, a CBS News spokesperson told Darcy that Williams was not going to anchor the “CBS Evening News” and added, “End of story.”

O’Donnell took over as “CBS Evening News” anchor in July 2019 when Susan Zirinsky was the CBS News president. The newscast was third in the ratings behind ABC’s “World News Tonight” and the “NBC Nightly News.” CBS moved the evening news broadcast to Washington, D.C., and has picked up viewers.

But it still remains, generally, third in the ratings. Last week, for example, ABC’s “World News Tonight” had 8.95 million total viewers, followed by “NBC Nightly News” with 7.82 million viewers and the “CBS Evening News” with 5.7 million viewers.

One other interesting tidbit from all of this is how Williams has fought his way back from a major scandal that cost him the “NBC Nightly News” anchor job in 2015. That’s when he embellished his involvement with a 2003 helicopter crash in Iraq while embedded with the U.S. Army.

After losing his anchor chair, Williams eventually landed at MSNBC, hosting a weeknight 11 p.m. Eastern show, as well as anchoring breaking news and election night coverage on MSNBC. To his credit, he owned his mistake, kept his head down and continued to work hard and show off his excellent TV anchoring talent — something that was never in question.

He left his MSNBC show of his own accord late last year when his contract expired and now appears to be on his way to a pretty good TV job.

It won’t be as anchor of the “CBS Evening News.” But could that lead to another really good job? Well, keep reading …

Replacing Cuomo

We’re coming up on two months since Chris Cuomo was let go from CNN and we still don’t know who is going to replace him. That’s because maybe CNN doesn’t even know.

Variety’s Brian Steinberg writes, “Some staffers at the WarnerMedia network believe CNN has been holding the equivalent of on-air tryouts in recent weeks, turning over the 9 p.m. hour to hosts like Michael Smerconish, Laura Coates and Brianna Keilar. Jim Acosta, the former White House reporter turned weekend anchor, takes a turn this week.”

CNN is, clearly, taking its time and that’s not necessarily a bad thing. As Steinberg notes, the 9 p.m. slot on a major cable news network is prime real estate. If you’re CNN, you’re hoping that whoever gets the permanent gig is going to be in that job for years. Plus, considering Cuomo was booted because he crossed the line by trying to help his brother, former New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, against multiple accusations of sexual harassment, CNN needs to get this hire right.

Steinberg wrote, “There has been much speculation that CNN might choose to hire an outsider to take on the slot. Brian Williams recently left NBC News after many years, and CBS News is believed to be in discussions with both Gayle King and Norah O’Donnell about renewing contracts set to lapse in coming months. Nabbing those anchors, however, might require more money than CNN, its parent WarnerMedia, or its soon-to-be new owner, Discovery, want to spend at a time when TV audiences are moving to new kinds of distribution.”

So, yes, Williams could be in the running. As far as O’Donnell, well, that’s a possibility. But CNN’s Brian Stelter recently reported that King is going to stay at CBS News.

And on the sports front …

NBC Sports’ “Sunday Night Football” announcer Al Michaels. (AP Photo/Keith Srakocic)

News networks aren’t the only ones looking to shuffle their anchor chairs. There’s also some shifting going on with NFL broadcasters.

The big openings are at Amazon, which begins airing “Thursday Night Football” next season. The names most discussed for that are NBC “Sunday Night Football” play-by-play announcer Al Michaels and Fox Sports lead NFL analyst Troy Aikman. On Richard Deitsch’s sports media podcast, Aikman said he is interested in joining Amazon. (Aikman could keep his Fox Sports job, too.)

Meanwhile, New York Post sports media columnist Andrew Marchand reports that ESPN is “contemplating a pursuit” of Michaels for “Monday Night Football.”

Marchand added, “ESPN is satisfied with its current No. 1 crew of Steve Levy, Brian Griese and Louis Riddick Jr. and was ecstatic over the reception of the Manningcast alternative broadcast this season. The network doesn’t feel like it is imperative to go after Michaels, but it remains intrigued.”

And here’s another wrinkle: Sean Payton stepped down as coach of the New Orleans Saints on Tuesday. He could easily get another coaching job if he just said the word, but it sounds like he wants to take some time away from the sidelines. If he decided he wanted to go into broadcasting, he would have no shortage of offers, and that could include Amazon.

Look what you made me do

Taylor Swift. (Evan Agostini/Invision/AP)

Don’t mess with Taylor Swift.

The pop singer and songwriter (emphasis on songwriter) clapped back at British musician Damon Albarn, best known for his band Blur, over comments Albarn made in an interview with Los Angeles Times pop music critic Mikael Wood.

In the interview, Albarn said of Swift: “She doesn’t write her own songs.” When Wood said Swift has written or co-written her songs, Albarn said co-writing “doesn’t count.”

Swift took to Twitter to call out Albarn, writing, “@DamonAlbarn I was such a big fan of yours until I saw this. I write ALL of my own songs. Your hot take is completely false and SO damaging. You don’t have to like my songs but it’s really (expletive) up to try and discredit my writing. WOW.”

She added, “PS I wrote this tweet all by myself in case you were wondering.”

Albarn immediately backed down, writing back to Swift, “I totally agree with you. i had a conversation about songwriting and sadly it was reduced to clickbait. I apologise unreservedly and unconditionally. The last thing I would want to do is discredit your songwriting. I hope you understand. – Damon”

Swift can (and did) take of herself, so I will stand up for Wood and the Los Angeles Times. Albarn said his quote was “reduced to clickbait.”

It was a Q&A! Questions followed by answers. Albarn’s quote wasn’t taken out of context. Wood didn’t put his spin on Albarn’s words. Wood asked the question, Albarn answered. Wood tried to fact-check him and Albarn doubled down.

There was nothing clickbait-y about it. Albarn was wrong to falsely accuse  Swift of not writing her own songs and just as wrong to try to blame Wood and the Times for his own dumb comments.

Rockin’ in the free world

Rock legend Neil Young has a message for Spotify: It’s either me or Joe Rogan. But you can’t have both.

Rolling Stone’s Andy Greene reported that Young, in a now-deleted post on his website, sent a letter to his management team, asking for his music to be removed from the music and podcast platform. He said it is because Spotify is “spreading fake information about vaccines — potentially causing death to those who believe this disinformation spread by them. I want you to let Spotify know immediately TODAY that I want all my music off their platform. They can have Rogan or Young. Not both.”

Two quick thoughts: Good for Young for standing up against COVID-19 misinformation, the kind that is often heard on Rogan’s show. But Rogan hosts the most popular podcast on the planet. His show claims to have 200 million listeners. In 2020, Rogan signed a deal with Spotify that The Wall Street Journal reported was worth more than $100 million. Bottom line is Spotify isn’t about to remove Rogan from its platform.

But Young’s music is still on Spotify, too, and he did remove that letter from his website. Young’s manager, Frank Gironda, told The Daily Beast’s AJ McDougall, “It’s something that’s really important to Neil. He’s very upset about this disinformation. … We’re trying to figure this out right now.”

A Doocy of a question

There’s still a bit of a buzz over the exchange on Monday between Fox News reporter Peter Doocy and President Joe Biden.

As reporters were walking out of the room, Doocy asked, “Do you think inflation is a political liability in the midterms?”

Of course it is a political liability. That question was nearly impossible for Biden to answer, and Doocy surely knew that. It was meant to poke the president.

And it did. Biden responded on a hot mic, “It’s a great asset. More inflation. What a stupid son of a bitch.”

As I wrote Tuesday, it was far from the worst thing ever said, but Biden is the president and should have handled it better, even if Doocy’s question really wasn’t a good-faith one.

Washington Post media critic Erik Wemple weighed in Tuesday, writing, “Fox News had every right to rip Biden for his candid snark. This is the fellow, after all, who declared personnel war on uncivil behavior in the White House ranks. ‘I’m not joking when I say this: If you are ever working with me and I hear you treat another with disrespect, talk down to someone, I promise you I will fire you on the spot,’ said Biden on the first day of his presidency. ‘No if, ands or buts.’”

Biden did call Doocy and apologize. And, to be clear, Doocy seemed to take Biden’s insult well.

Still, let’s be honest, Doocy was trolling. He was antagonizing. He was fishing for a crabby response from Biden.

Wemple wrote, “On the one hand, the White House briefing room should be a place where a wide range of viewpoints flourish; on the other hand, Doocy’s daily toil feeds an operation whose bad faith is undermining democracy and public health, often in the same sound bite. Only a stupid you-know-what wouldn’t agonize over that trade-off.”

Reprehensible and insensitive

Robert F. Kennedy Jr. is broadcast on a large screen as he speaks during an anti-vaccine rally in front of the Lincoln Memorial in Washington on Sunday. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)

When she was on the HBO show “Curb Your Enthusiasm,” actress Cheryl Hines was used to her TV husband, Larry David, saying incredibly insensitive junk. Now her real-life husband is doing it.

Hines is married to Robert F. Kennedy Jr., the son of the late U.S. senator and presidential candidate Bobby Kennedy and the nephew of President John F. Kennedy. Kennedy Jr. has been an outspoken anti-vaxxer and was banned from Instagram in 2021 for “repeatedly sharing debunked claims about the coronavirus or vaccines.”

Speaking at an anti-vaccine rally in Washington over the weekend, Kennedy Jr. compared COVID-19 vaccine requirements in the U.S. to Nazi Germany.

Kennedy Jr. said, “Even in Hitler Germany, you could, you could cross the Alps into Switzerland. You could hide in an attic, like Anne Frank did. I visited, in 1962, East Germany with my father and met people who had climbed the wall and escaped, so it was possible. Many died, true, but it was possible.”

Hines, who married Kennedy in 2014, tweeted her disapproval of her husband’s comments: “My husband’s reference to Anne Frank at a mandate rally in D.C. was reprehensible and insensitive. The atrocities that millions endured during the Holocaust should never be compared to anyone or anything. His opinions are not a reflection of my own.”

Several groups — including the Auschwitz Memorial and the Anti-Defamation League — also criticized Kennedy’s comments.

On Tuesday, Kennedy tweeted, “I apologize for my reference to Anne Frank, especially to families that suffered the Holocaust horrors. My intention was to use examples of past barbarism to show the perils from new technologies of control. To the extent my remarks caused hurt, I am truly and deeply sorry.”

Meanwhile, CNN national security analyst Peter Bergen writes, “The threat Robert F. Kennedy Jr. poses to Covid-19 vaccination efforts.”

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Tom Jones is Poynter’s senior media writer for He was previously part of the Tampa Bay Times family during three stints over some 30…
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