As Terminator Arnold Schwarzenegger will say in the next summer blockbuster movie, former NBC News anchor Brian Williams returned to the air last week in an in-house interview with Matt Lauer on Today. Williams professed sorrow, apparently accepted a pay cut and will work starting in August on MSNBC, which several commentators noted is like going from winning the U.S. Open to playing for the U.S. Publinks title.
Did Williams rehabilitate himself? Did his time away from the anchor desk calm the credibility waters he’d been drowning in when he stepped down? A lot of people say no, and many say it really doesn’t matter anymore. People consume news and information so differently that a network anchor is now just another blogger — with a bigger pay check.
The one good aspect of all this is that Lester Holt is now the #1 anchor and the face and leader of NBC News on air.
One of the better analyses of Williams’ performance came from Al Tompkins on Poynter.com. That’s a site that evaluates journalists and their issues and Tompkins hit the high points well.
“I would like to take this opportunity to say that what has happened in the past has been identified and torn apart by me and has been fixed. Has been dealt with. And going forward there are going to be different rules of the road.“
He does not say WHAT has been identified or WHAT has happened. He does not say HOW those mistakes have been fixed and he does not say what the new rules of the road will be. I wish he had said something like:
“I exaggerated or fabricated 10 stories that I told on late night talk shows and speeches. (Then name them.) In each case, I apologized to the people who were harmed. In the future I will stick to doing the news.”
Williams is a dead man walking, he just thinks he’s walking out of the prison cell he built for himself.
He’s moving to a largely ignored channel that desperately needs a boost, but probably won’t get one from Williams. There he will be largely forgotten by the millions of people who don’t watch business cable news all day, rather than the reliable nine million he attracted each night on the prime time news. MSNBC gets about 380,000 viewers a day. Ouch.
As Fox News pointed out, if you don’t think Williams was fired, think again.
Could Williams, as Tompkins implied, have improved his lot with a more forceful apology and a less-veiled approach? Probably not.
The time to do that, as we noted at the time, was in February, when the story broke that Williams had lied. Fessing up now, six months later after your obituary already ran, does little.
Nor should it.
The content of this blog is about crisis management and mismanagement in a digital age. It originates with Steve Bell, who spent 30 years as a journalist for the Associated Press and in four top editor positions at The Buffalo News. He is now Partner/Director of Public Affairs and Crisis and Reputation Management at Eric Mower + Associates, one of the nation’s largest independent advertising, integrated marketing and public relations agencies, with eight offices in the East. Learn more about EMA at mowerpr.com/crisisready. Steve’s blog is based on his own opinions and does not represent the views or positions of Eric Mower + Associates.