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NBC executives have reached an agreement that will keep Brian Williams at the company, say sources. But the exiled Nightly News anchor will not be returning to the anchor desk. Lester Holt will continue to anchor the broadcast, say sources. The decision was made by NBC News chairman Andy Lack and NBCUni CEO Steve Burke.
The news that Williams will be kept at the network when his suspension is over in August was first reported by CNNMoney’s Brian Stelter.
The details of Williams’ new role are unclear but it is likely to involve handling some breaking news for MSNBC, which has been weathering ratings struggles for the last several months. Sources say one of the sticking points of the negotiation has been Williams’ reluctance to make an unequivocal apology for repeated misrepresentations about his experiences reporting in the field. And it is still unclear how Williams will apologize, though NBC News executives had been pushing for an on-air mea culpa.
A resolution would end nearly four months of media speculation and behind-the-scenes drama after Williams was suspended for six months on Feb. 10. An internal investigation revealed repeated instances during which Williams exaggerated — or outright fabricated — his experiences while reporting in the field. There also has been a sustained tide against Williams among NBC News’ rank and file, where he’s had few defenders.
Lack, who led the division in the 1990s, has maintained relationships with many of NBC’s top news stars including Williams, Matt Lauer and Meredith Vieira. When he was named chairman of NBC News last March (he also has oversight of MSNBC), many expected him to be Williams’ staunchest defender.
Holt has been filling in for Williams since February. During that time, NBC Nightly News has slipped in the ratings, with ABC’s World News Tonight With David Muir winning several weeks in the 25-54 news demo and among total viewers.
Williams was found to have misrepresented multiple field assignments beyond the initial fabrication about being in a U.S. military helicopter in Iraq in 2003 that Williams said was downed by enemy RPG fire. Williams was actually in a chopper more than an hour behind the helicopter that was forced down.
But he relayed the fabricated story during multiple promotional appearances, including on Late Show With David Letterman. He also claimed to have been in Tahrir Square during the 2011 uprisings there, making eye contact with a menacing thug on horseback, he told Jon Stewart during an interview on The Daily Show. Williams was in fact reporting from a balcony overlooking the square.
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