Nothing finalized with regard to NBC Nightly News anchor Brian Williams’ fate at the news division, and it’s driving media crazy. We’re four months into Williams’ six-month suspension – slapped on him after Stars And Stripes busted the anchor for embellishing his experience in an Iraq War helicopter attack during an NBC Nightly News broadcast and word got out it maybe wasn’t the only instance.
An announcement could come this week, say sources with knowledge of the situation. Then again, there had been reports last week an announcement was imminent, though no business resulted, once again exasperating journalists who’d wanted quick resolution to the story that has been playing out since early February. That’s an eternity in Reporters Who Cover Television time. For comparison’s sake: at the same time Stars And Stripes broke its Brian Williams story, word got out that Caitlyn Jenner, then known as Bruce, had agreed to give an exclusive sit-down with ABC News’ Diane Sawyer. Since then, Jenner:
– Was involved in a fatal traffic accident
– Gave that interview to Sawyer announcing she was transitioning
– Was confirmed by E! as star of an upcoming reality series documenting that transition
– Unveiled her new name
– Underwent a 10-hour facial feminization surgery
– Appeared on the cover of Vanity Fair
– Broke President Obama’s record for snagging 1 million Twitter followers in under 5 hours (Jenner accomplished it in under 4)
– Was announced as this year’s recipient of the Arthur Ashe Award for Courage at this year’s ESPYs
And, if Williams’ saga continues much longer, Jenner also will have debuted her E! reality series (June 26), and picked up that Arthur Ashe Award (July 15).
Now that’s the pace at which the media likes see its TV-industry stories play out. Already, impatient press following Williams’ story had reported NBC would have to make an announcement to advertisers about his fate at the network’s Upfront Week presentation in mid-May (they were wrong). They also reported NBC would have to make an announcement to its station execs at its affiliate confab the same month (wrong again). And, last week’s Strike 3 resulted in a series of press reports Williams and his lawyer, Robert Barnett, deliberately were dragging out the talks, and that negotiations had turned acrimonious, etc. “Horseradish,” sources with knowledge of the situation told us – or words to that effect.
Meanwhile, NBC News has declined to speak publicly on the subject, and Williams has not been at liberty to discuss results of the NBC News investigation as to the other conflation allegations, including his participation in NBC News’ Hurricane Katrina coverage. One insider insists Williams still is “eager” to talk to the press.
Sources with knowledge of the talks say NBC News chief and Williams pal Andy Lack is working to be able to announce soon that Lester Holt is permanent anchor of Nightly News and Williams will be moved to a new role outside of the evening news operation, which might mean some kind of “at large” post or a gig at ratings-hungry MSNBC. It’s not a slam dunk Williams will come back when his suspension ends in August, though insiders now are giving better odds of Williams returning to work at NBCU than they had been earlier.
Do not expect any new gig for Williams, should he accept one, to be couched as penance with a view to his eventual return to Nightly News. He’s considered too radioactive inside the company, no matter how much polling shows American viewers would be happy to have him back, according to some sources. And too many people inside the Nightly News machine do not share viewers’ sentiment, said one source, citing the “environment” Williams created as managing editor even before the Stars And Stripes story broke.
A couple of insiders called “ridiculous” a report that Holt was attempting to secure a salary that would match the $10 mil a year Williams reportedly had negotiated in a new contract shortly before his suspension. Holt has been credited with hanging on to the bulk of the Nightly News audience since Williams was put on unpaid leave, even though NBC News has done little to promote him anchoring the program while it sorted out Williams’ future, or lack thereof, at the division.
Meanwhile, NBC News has been working hard to push the storyline that there’s more to the news division than its embattled Nightly News anchor. Late last week, for instance, CNN “obtained” a copy of an internal email NBC News president Deborah Turness sent to Today staffers, inviting them downstairs to Starbucks for celebratory coffee and pastries after their show– which has trailed ABC’s Good Morning America for three years — clocked its third news-demo win in four weeks. “Enjoy, and please know how much your great work and amazing results are appreciated,” she wrote, as reporters continue to pace the floor over the Williams story.