Brian Williams returns

Although a big part of me wanted former NBC news anchor Brian Williams to be fired after he embellished and even downright fabricated stories about his reporting in the field, I can accept his just announced return to a new and different job at MSNBC.
Lester Holt has held the NBC anchor chair since Williams was suspended without pay for six months, and it would have been unforgivable on two counts—at least among journalists—to give Williams his old job back.


One, Holt has done a fine job. He's more Walter Cronkite, while Williams is more Johnny Carson. Two, even though Williams lied mostly on talk shows, not from the anchor chair, he shouldn't get to lead a news organization. Not even if viewers—and therefore advertisers—don't care. Surely corporate news executives retain, or feel compelled to exhibit, at least that much decency.


But given that Williams has apologized and been humiliated for his sins, I don't think it's necessary that he be drummed entirely and permanently out of the news business. I must say, however, that during my years in the business I've seen non-celebrity journalists drummed out for less.


NBC's solution to transfer Williams to a breaking news job at MSNBC should put him back in the field for real, not just allow him to fly in for photo ops that he can brag about later. Probably he will do well, especially because he'll have plenty of support. It's in the network's financial interest to rehabilitate their fallen star, whose popularity paid off big in the past.


Speaking of finances, I've yet to hear whether Williams will continue to collect his ten million dollar a year contracted salary, despite the fact that he has supposedly been demoted. My guess is that his six-month suspension, and five million dollar loss, will be considered punishment enough. Which is why, no matter how sorry Williams is for his lies and how hard he works for redemption, his presence on air will continue to irritate me.

Television news stars are paid way too much given that television news covers just a fraction of what's going on in the country and the world. The stars could live just as well if a hefty bunch of their cash were used to gather more news and hire more reporters, especially the freelancers risking their lives to do essential reporting in the Middle East and other war zones.


Sure, corporate profits are such that more reporters could be hired and stars could still keep their bloated salaries. But it's unseemly for highly styled presenters like Williams, and he's certainly not alone, to collect millions when both network and cable news shows do little more than latch onto the story of the hour and run it over and over again, feeding our myopia rather than expanding our knowledge.


Inevitably, there will be discussion over whether Lester Holt should get a salary as big as Williams did, since he's arguably done a better job. I don't think he should. No one in that job, until something changes in the field, ever should.


And so, to Brian Williams I say: Lucky you for getting a second chance. I hope you work hard and help others. I wish you no ill. If you do any great reporting, I expect somehow I'll hear about it. Meanwhile, I won't be watching you.

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Bethe Dufresne, a frequent contributor, is a freelance writer living in Old Mystic, Connecticut.

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