Assuming everything reported about Brian Williams’ transgressions are true, it’s still important to keep this in perspective. While those grievous errors wouldn’t allow him to return to the anchor seat, it shouldn’t keep him from pursuing his life’s work — assuming he returns humbled and squares with his audience.
The news had barely leaked Wednesday that NBC was moving suspended anchor Brian Williams off of his Nightly News perch and into an unspecified role at MSNBC before those who make their living dissecting these things went into overdrive.
The Washington Post: “Do Not Foist Brian Williams on MSNBC.”
The Daily Beast: “Why is Brian Williams Good Enough for MSNBC, But Not NBC?”
And from the Los Angeles Times, that hoary perennial: “The End of the Almighty Anchor.”
Let’s step back.
First of all, though I have no inside information, NBC might decide to do this in stages: First, Brian Williams needs to explain everything that happened, and NBC needs to release their internal report. Then, and only then, should NBC move into the next step: Placing Williams in a different role.
Assuming everything reported about Williams’ transgressions are true, it’s still important to keep this in perspective. While those grievous errors wouldn’t allow him to return to the anchor seat, it shouldn’t keep him from pursuing his life’s work — assuming he returns humbled and squares with his audience.
Why can’t he host a show on MSNBC? I’d watch. He is smart and personable and so funny. I wouldn’t want to see him host a presidential debate, but why shouldn’t he host some take on the news with humor and bite? (Maybe at 11 p.m. against Trevor Noah.)
We’re all smart consumers, and we’d bring our knowledge of his past transgressions to the TV or whatever device he’s on. This idea that somehow NBC is soiling MSNBC with Williams is absurd. Let’s see what they come up with. The last time I checked, hosting a cable show doesn’t require vetting by the nation’s media guardians.
As for the death of the Almighty Anchor, that’s an old story. People forget that even the almightiest of the almighty, Walter Cronkite, was temporarily removed from convention coverage by CBS News one year, in order to better compete with NBC’s Huntley/Brinkley dynamo. Cronkite was humiliated of course, the public clamored for his return, and soon Uncle Walter was back where he should have been. But the point is, anchors have always been mortals, and even in this fragmented viewing era, the network news anchors command millions and millions of viewers nightly.
That’s not to say that I won’t miss Jon Stewart more than I would my favorite network news anchor, but that’s a long way from saying that the almighty anchor is an anachronism. They were never as powerful as they were portrayed in the old days, nor are they as diminished as they are portrayed in these new days.
And, let’s face it, we don’t know what the race will look like once NBC News starts investing in and promoting my former MSNBC colleague Lester Holt. He’s held his own these past months without any of the marketing muscle that networks put behind their (alas) top guys.
Mark Effron is a consultant at Effron & Associates. He can be reached at [email protected].