Politics & Media
Feb 06, 2015, 02:10PM

Brian Williams’ Professional Fate Is Irrelevant

Nightly news anchors are no longer household names.

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Who watches the network (or cable) nightly evening news broadcasts anymore? That’s not an entirely facetious question, for while NBC, ABC and CBS still draw millions of viewers at 6:30 or 7:00—half the number of just a few decades ago—the era of the “anchor” is clearly over. As the flap over NBC’s Brian Williams fabricating stories about his 2003 Iraq visit continue—and who knows, he might be resigning any hour today—I realized that I didn’t even know who his competitors were. Had to look it up: David Muir on ABC and Scott Pelley for CBS, and I’ve never seen one of their broadcasts. Ten bucks says I’m not alone.

In a New York Times story today (which required three reporters), there was one sentence that stuck out: “What is clear is that the trustworthiness of one of America’s best-known and most revered TV journalists has been damaged, and that the moral authority of the nightly network news anchor, already diminished in the modern media era, has been dealt another blow.”

Really? Who exactly “reveres” Brian Williams as a journalist? I suppose his industry buddies and the celebrities he hob-nobs with would say that Williams, who earns a reported $10 million a year to read news that’s prepared by an NBC staff, is in the pantheon of TV personalities, but that’s standard log-rolling. As for “moral authority,” that’s silliness. Old-timers remember when CBS’ Walter Cronkite was nationally known as the “the most trusted man in America,” and though I did watch his broadcast—and Huntley/Brinkley—it was mostly out of habit, a means of learning of breaking news that occurred after the afternoon newspapers were delivered. And Cronkite did have actual experience as a journalist, covering World War II for United Press before joining CBS in the early 50s, recruited by Edward R. Murrow. But while Cronkite excelled at projecting an air of gravitas, his self-righteousness grew more and more tiresome as he aged.

His successor Dan Rather was a lot more entertaining (and compared to the serious dailies, that’s what TV News was), even if his quirky persona was off-putting to the holier-than-thou Washington/New York establishment. Rather’s baiting of Richard Nixon while still a CBS reporter was terrific theater, and the still-quizzical “Kenneth, what’s the frequency” controversy and his one-week sign-off of the Evening News with “Courage” was hilarious. Rather slithered into Jon Stewart territory at a time when the future Daily Show host was seeking work as a stand-up comic.

While we’re at it, let’s not forget that the industry-beloved Tom Brokaw, Williams’ predecessor as NBC anchor and alleged mentor, was responsible for coining the term “The Greatest Generation” for a segment of the population—those who grew up in the Depression and fought in World War II—that didn’t particularly desire such recognition. But Brokaw made a bundle!

I’m assuming that Williams, at some point, will have to go, the victim of his own self-aggrandizement and an unforgiving social media, which is neither here nor there to me, since I never took the guy seriously anyway. Who’ll be his replacement? NBC has a thin bench, demonstrated by the toady Chuck Todd hosting the onetime Sunday morning staple Meet the Press after the insufferable David Gregory was mercifully canned. I’d nominate Willie Geist, the 39-year-old co-anchor of MSNBC’s Morning Joe and a co-host on the third hour of The Today Show. Even though he’s forced to perform all sorts of nonsense on Today, you get the feeling Geist could rise to the occasion to take over from Williams. That said, I still wouldn’t watch NBC’s Nightly News.

—Follow Russ Smith on Twitter: @MUGGER1955   

  • Williams is a lawn turd.....not a "world class" turd, like America's first Muslim President.

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  • Ronald Reagan was not a Muslim

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  • Network talking heads are drawn from a vast factory of Lib clones. If one fails, the network quickly "re-Libs." The real issue here is that the NBC Editorial staff refused to filter his sewage. Perhaps they don't even have one.

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  • Don't think Fox fits into your "Lib clones" category. In any case, my point was that network "anchors" are an anachronism, and matter less and less with each passing year.

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  • Irrelevant to what? Evan Thomas, once of Newsweek, once said that the media give the dems fifteen points in the presidential election. Correcting for that, said one guy who did the math, would have meant Obama won Vermont and DC his first time around. Thomas later amended his number to five percent, which means Obama's loss wouldn't have been so disastrous. This presumes the effect and the correction are evenly distributed. Thomas was doing an admission against interest which, according to Law and Order, is pretty important. This is the network that got busted for blowing up trucks, editing George Zimmerman's recorded phone calls to the cops, and inflated the estate of the late Richard Jewell. And people still believe them. So, yeah, people will still believe them, so BW's fate is irrelevant there. Problem is, being an anchor is only like being a better known television journalist than other television journalists. Will his fate straighten out any of the rest? That's the relevant question. If the rest of them think they can continue with business as usual, then his fate is irrelevant.

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