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NBC’s once-star news anchor Brian Williams returns to cable

Brian Williams anchors an evening broadcast of the NBC "Nightly News." [Photo: NBC News]
Brian Williams anchors an evening broadcast of the NBC “Nightly News.” [Photo: NBC News]
A 22-year career with the National Broadcasting Corporation was too sentimentally remunerative for the network to simply let go of.

On Friday, it was announced that NBC’s once-star news presenter Brian Williams would be returning to the network in a lesser capacity four months after a scandal over his embellishment of combat stories stymied his time in the prime anchor chair.

Lester Holt, the interim anchor of the network’s flagship “Nightly News” program, would remain in his position permanently, NBC said.

For Williams, it marks a return to the beginning: He will take on a new role at the struggling cable news channel MSNBC where he will primarily report on breaking news stories and other notable events of national and international interest.

Williams is no stranger to MSNBC: In 1996, it was where he moved up from his position as anchor of the network’s Weekend Nightly News to launch “The News with Brian Williams,” an hour-long topical news show bearing his signature.

And MSNBC will be where Williams gets his second chance after a seeming fall from grace four months ago when it was revealed he had embellished facts about certain combat stories both on “Nightly News” and in other media appearances. His embellishments were first reported in February by the Stars & Stripes newspaper.

Amid calls for his resignation, NBC executives launched a thorough investigation into Williams’ past reporting. On Friday, NBC said in a statement the investigation had revealed Williams made “a number of inaccurate statements” both on the network and off about his field reporting and experiences.

Williams acknowledged his misgivings, both during internal meetings with NBC News staffers and during a candid news interview on NBC’s morning program “Today.” Speaking to Matt Lauer, Williams said he had combed through 20 years of reporting and admitted that at times his ego had gotten the best of him.

“I said things that weren’t true,” Williams acknowledged. “This came from clearly a bad place, a bad urge inside me. This was clearly ego-driven, a desire to better my role in a story I was already in.”

Williams said he was “grateful” for the second chance NBC had given him and would not “squander” his time at MSNBC.

That second chance comes with a lower paycheck and a permanent banishment from “Nightly News,” anonymous executives told the New York Times. Williams will be permitted to appear on the broadcast network only when Holt is unavailable, one source told the paper.

It is unclear how much money Williams will earn in the new role at MSNBC. His prior role had netted him around $10 million per year over five years, the Times said.

Staffers at NBC have been sharply divided over whether Williams should return to the news network. The opinion was strongly against Williams at NBC’s Washington bureau, where staff members had complained that Williams’ falsehoods about military service members and his experiences in combat reporting had embarrassed many journalists who work closely with sources in the federal government.

The Times reported that Williams traveled to Washington on Thursday to personally apologize to staffers. He was accompanied by two high-level NBC News executives, the Times said.

“Brian now has the chance to earn back everyone’s trust,” Andrew Lack, the chairman of NBC News, said in a statement. “His excellent work over 22 years at NBC News has earned him that opportunity.”

For the network, bringing Williams to MSNBC could be a breath of fresh air as the cable channel seeks to re-tool its news coverage in the face of declining ratings. Over the next few months, MSNBC is expected to fold most of its morning-slotted opinion-based programs for hard news, a return to MSNBC’s turn-of-the-millennium strategy when it aired more hard news hours than its two main rivals, CNN and the FOX News Channel.

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About the Author:

Matthew Keys

Matthew Keys is a nationally-recognized, award-winning journalist who has covered the business of media, technology, radio and television for more than 11 years. He is the publisher of The Desk and contributes to Know Techie, Digital Content Next and StreamTV Insider. He previously worked for Thomson Reuters, the Walt Disney Company, McNaughton Newspapers and Tribune Broadcasting.
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