NBC News suspends Brian Williams for 6 months

After dithering a few days, the brass at NBC News and Comcast have acted in a way that defers the hard choices another half a year, by “suspending” Brian Williams without pay for 6 months. Based on the gossip and speculation rife in the news business, actually firing the fabulist would risk a ratings drop and (more importantly) amount to an admission of failure for the executives who just agreed to pay him $50 million to spin yarns read the news for another five years.

Evidently, NBC and its parent company Comcast, strong allies of the Obama administration, initially hoped to ride out the scandal, in hopes that something else would distract the public. But the avalanche of ridicule, including an entire genre of humorous graphics inserting Williams into various historic events, proved more than they could endure. NBC News was becoming a joke, itself. 

Perhaps NBC is hoping that after 6 months and a concerted campaign to humanize Williams by showing him repenting, feeding the homeless, tutoring inner city children, and visibly experiencing the antithesis of glamour and adulation, he will be forgiven by the public, and can return to the NBC air as a new man. The American pubic does tend to forgive those who find humility in the wake of errors. And in the meantime, waiting for this good Christian-style forgiveness to kick in, there will be ample opportunities for schadenfreude as we see Williams in his good works hair shirts, perhaps even mussing his hair on occasion.

Based on the number of breathless breaking news gongs heard on Fox News last night, the decision of NBC News to suspend Brian Williams is the most important event in the world. I think that people in news business are far more fascinated by this incident than most of the rest of us. It is mainly a celebrity story, not a news story, as far as I am concerned. And as for trusting NBC News, there is not much that they can do. NBC, after all, is the gang that rigged a truck with explosives to demonstrate how dangerous the fuel tank was. That such a fraud was ever considered, much less implemented, says all you need to know about the culture there. And the fact that the producer, camera operator, and sound technician who almost certainly were in the helicopter with Williams held their tongues for years tells us that the culture has not improved.

I don’t know if Williams will return to NBC News air in 6 months, or if he will find other work, perhaps in late night television (Jon Stewart will be leaving The Daily Show, it was just announced), or maybe a game show. Somebody, right now Lester Holt, will have to occupy the anchor desk, and maybe that person will become popular enough that Williams will not be needed. It wouldn’t surprise me if Jon Stewart were given a crack at it, or Katie Couric. I really can’t work up enough enthusiasm to care.