NBC is bringing back the disgraced Brian Williams, not to NBC, but to MSNBC, the ratings-challenged cable arm of NBC. It is a practical solution: the network would have to pay Williams many millions to break his contract. It was for five years and a reputed $10 million a year, signed just before the scandal broke.
Williams is well-liked, a celebrity, known not only as the serious evening news anchor, but also as the witty guest of Jon Stewart and host on SNL. He will surely boost the sagging ratings of MSNBC.
But writing in the NYT about Williams’s return, Jonathan Mahler asks some pointed questions:
Do the tall tales that Mr. Williams told about his time in a war zone — and, apparently, about a number of other stories he covered — make him fundamentally untrustworthy, and thus unfit to report the news? If it doesn’t, why not put him back in the job that he did so well and so successfully? If it does, why is it O.K. for him to land at MSNBC? Are its standards for truth somehow lower?
So much of the network newscast is merely fluff, infotainment. Hard news represents a small portion of the news program pie. Walter Cronkite and Edward R. Murrow have no counterparts today. If a personality pulls in a big audience share, integrity is no match for entertainment.