June 17, 2015


Brian Williams, the suspended “NBC Nightly News” anchor who was taken off the air after he was discovered to be dissembling about his war reportage, will likely stay at the network, CNN’s Brian Stelter reports:

Williams will not be returning to the “NBC Nightly News” anchor chair, the people said. Instead he will have a new role; the details of it are unknown to all but a very small number of executives.

The news comes toward the tail-end of a six-month suspension, set to expire in August, that was levied against Williams earlier this year after a Stars and Stripes story revealed inconsistencies in tales told by the anchor on air.

The proposal articulated by CNN’s sources was suggested by an earlier report as a possible middle way for NBC News to keep Williams at the network without putting him back in the anchor chair he left on uncertain terms earlier this year. According to CNN’s report, that course of action was approved of by Andy Lack, the newly appointed chairman of NBC News, who reportedly has a close relationship with Williams.

It would also avoid a messy transition for Williams’ interim replacement, Lester Holt, who has kept NBC News’ flagship broadcast competitive with its rivals in his stead.

There’s also a financial upside to keeping Williams somewhere within NBC: By putting him to work, the network can extract some value out of the anchor’s contract, reportedly valued at $10 million per year over five years. The alternative, as Politico’s Mike Allen reported earlier this year, would be to shell out millions of dollars in an effort to convince Williams to exit.

As for Williams’ future appointment, Stelter’s report suggests that the anchor might head to MSNBC in an effort to bolster that network’s low ratings, or take an at-large reporting position.

If true, CNN’s report will end months of speculation about Williams’ fate. An earlier report from The Washington Post suggested that the network would make a determination about his status before the glitzy advertorial showcases known as “upfronts.” That decision didn’t materialize.

As these conjectures swirled, there has also been an ongoing fact-finding inquiry into Williams’ reporting history led by NBC News investigative journalist Richard Esposito. According to reports in The New York Times and elsewhere, this endeavor has turned up a “half-dozen instances” of embellishment, exaggeration or outright fabrication by the suspended anchor. Writing for Politico, Allen suggested these stories were strategically planted by sources at NBC News in an attempt to force Williams to resign and forfeit some of the balance of his contract.

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Benjamin Mullin is the managing editor of Poynter.org. He previously reported for Poynter as a staff writer, Google Journalism Fellow and Naughton Fellow, covering journalism…
Benjamin Mullin

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