UPDATE, 2:45 PM: In response to Brian Williams decision to cancel his long-scheduled appearance on Late Show with David Letterman, Stars and Stripes says it decided to publish the entirety of last week’s interview with the embattled NBC Nightly News anchor. Today, Stars and Stripes made available the audio and a transcript of the interview Williams did on the same day he apologized on his newscast for his inflated claims about taking enemy fire while in a helicopter in Iraq in ’03. Other navel lint gazers said an appearance on Letterman’s show, while his bosses are investigating this and other claims Williams has made over the years, would be terrible optics, but Stars and Stripes’ Travis Tritten chastized him for bowing out of the interview. “There was a lot of interest out there to hear him, in his own words, really address these questions and hear his response, unfiltered — so everybody can listen for themselves and judge.”
“Williams has not come forward and answered questions…He has made statements on his own, but he hasn’t sat and answered questions about it,” Tritten elaborated of the decision.
PREVIOUS, Sunday afternoon: Brian Williams will not appear on the Late Show with David Letterman this Thursday, canceling a long-scheduled appearance in the wake of an investigation into his inflated claims about taking enemy fire while in a helicopter in Iraq, an NBC News source confirms. Some industry navel gazers say he’s missed a great opportunity by canceling.
According to a source familiar with the situation, Williams’ situation is so fluid — he’s said he’s stepping away from Nightly News for “several days” and NBC News has given no timeframe for its investigation – Williams decided he should cancel now, to give Letterman’s team the courtesy of ample time to book a new guest. NBC News may not have announced investigation results by Thursday.
It’s a loss for Letterman, though. His Thursday broadcast was on track to do a big number, and get a lot of press coverage, a huge get, especially for a ratings-sweep night. Good news for Letterman: his team was able to book Tom Hanks as a replacement.
No telling what Williams originally intended to plug in his appearance on the CBS late night show; the booking was made before Stars and Stripes published its report debunking Williams’ claim he was in a Chinook helicopter that took a rocket-propelled grenade in Iraq in 2003. The booking was canceled this afternoon, under cover of the weekend, when viewers tend to consume less news. Not coincidentally, NBC announced Friday it was launching an internal fact-gathering investigation of this and other Williams claims over the years, to assess the damage to its brand. On Saturday, Williams chose to announce he was taking himself off of Nightly News for “several days.”
Those who were betting Williams would ixnay the ookingbay insisted the optics would be awful – ducking Nightly News while going on a late-night comedy show, as his division struggles to clean up the brand damage he’s created.
Others, however, had argued Williams has got to start doing the Career Salvation Stations of the Cross Tour somewhere soon, especially if he intends to hang on to his gig as Nightly News anchor and managing editor of the division. Letterman, they argued, has senior statesman status, as TV on-air talent goes. He and Williams go way back, they noted. Plus, Letterman’s show was one of the places were Williams made his bogus claim about having been on the helicopter that took the RPG attack. Video of that 2013 appearance has been making the rounds since Stars and Stripes published its report.
An apology to Letterman on his show would actually look good, said enthusiasts of the now-aborted booking. Letterman, they’d insisted, would be the perfect person to hold Williams’ hand as he does a TV mea culpa — having himself demonstrated in 2009 how to make Late Show a platform for a confession, using the studio audience’s applause and laughter to begin the process of public forgiveness.
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