NBC News has decided to retain Brian Williams, but to ship him down to MSNBC. There, he will handle “breaking news and live reports.”
Paul Fahri of the Washington Post calls Williams’ transfer to a “little-watched” cable news network “the equivalent of a major leaguer being sent down to the minors.” To extend the analogy, being assigned to MSNBC can be equated to being farmed out to “low A” ball.
From a journalistic standpoint, the move doesn’t make much sense. If Williams, by virtue of having lied on air, is unfit for NBC News, he shouldn’t be fit for cable news, and certainly not for covering breaking news and providing live reports.
Mark Feldstein, a former network correspondent who now teaches broadcast journalism, makes this point:
I think it’s a mistake to make Williams the public face of hard news at MSNBC since breaking news was a venue for his false reporting in the first place.
It would make more sense to give him a talk show to take advantage of his skills as an entertaining raconteur without being burdened by the need for journalistic credibility, which he’s obviously sacrificed. How can the public now believe his reporting of breaking news?
“Entertaining raconteur.” That’s one way of putting it.
Williams’ new assignment can be seen as a reflection of the network’s view of MSNBC. If it is, then the move makes sense after all.
Another way to view the move is, of course, as punishment for Williams. Being relegated to an outfit as lonely and little respected as MSNBC certainly amounts to punishment.