Brian Williams: New options won't solve an old problem at NBC

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Brian Williams: New options won't solve an old problem at NBC
NEW YORK, NY - AUGUST 06: (Exclusive Coverage) Dorothea Bon Jovi, Brian Williams, Jane Williams and Jon Bon Jovi attend the after party for 'Hamilton' Broadway opening night at Pier 60 on August 6, 2015 in New York City. (Photo by Bruce Glikas/FilmMagic)
NEW YORK, NY - FEBRUARY 04: Brian Williams attends the Boston Bruins vs New York Rangers game at Madison Square Garden on February 4, 2015 in New York City. (Photo by James Devaney/GC Images)
Journalist Brian Williams hosts onstage at The Lincoln Awards: A Concert For Veterans & The Military Family presented by The Friars Foundation at John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts on January 7, 2015 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Larry French/Getty Images for The Friars Club)
NBC NEWS -- Pictured: (l-r) General Wayne A. Downing and Anchor and Managing Editor, Brian Williams of 'NBC Nightly News' during a report from Camp Liberty in Baghdad, Iraq on March 8, 2007 (Photo by Jeff Riggins/NBC/NBCU Photo Bank via Getty Images)
Actress Allison Williams, center, poses with her parents NBC News anchor Brian Williams and Jane Williams at HBO's "Girls" fourth season premiere party at The American Museum of Natural History on Monday, Jan. 5, 2015, in New York. (Photo by Evan Agostini/Invision/AP)
WASHINGTON, DC - JANUARY 07: Journalist Brian Williams hosts onstage at The Lincoln Awards: A Concert For Veterans & The Military Family presented by The Friars Foundation at John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts on January 7, 2015 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Paul Morigi/Getty Images for The Friars Club)
NBC NEWS -- Pictured: (l-r) Lieutenant General Raymond T. Odierno, Anchor and Managing Editor, Brian Williams of 'NBC Nightly News' and General Wayne A. Downing in Baghdad, Iraq on March 8, 2007 (Photo by Jeff Riggins/NBC/NBCU Photo Bank via Getty Images)
NBC NEWS -- Pictured: (third from left) Anchor and Managing Editor, Brian Williams of 'NBC Nightly News' with American military reports from Camp Liberty in Baghdad, Iraq on March 8, 2007 (Photo by Jeff Riggins/NBC/NBCU Photo Bank via Getty Images)
NBC NEWS -- Pictured: (c) Anchor and Managing Editor, Brian Williams of 'NBC Nightly News' with American military reports from Camp Liberty in Baghdad, Iraq on March 8, 2007 (Photo by Jeff Riggins/NBC/NBCU Photo Bank via Getty Images)
NBC NEWS -- Pictured: (c) Anchor and Managing Editor, Brian Williams of 'NBC Nightly News' with American military reports from Camp Liberty in Baghdad, Iraq on March 8, 2007 (Photo by Jeff Riggins/NBC/NBCU Photo Bank via Getty Images)
FILE - In this Nov. 5, 2014 file photo, Brian Williams speaks at the 8th Annual Stand Up For Heroes, presented by New York Comedy Festival and The Bob Woodruff Foundation in New York. Williams has admitted he spread a false story about being on a helicopter that came under enemy fire while he was reporting in Iraq in 2003. Williams said he was in a helicopter following other aircraft, one of which was hit by ground fire. His helicopter was not hit. NBC News was not commenting Thursday about whether its top on-air personality would face disciplinary action. (Photo by Brad Barket/Invision/AP, File)
THE TONIGHT SHOW STARRING JIMMY FALLON -- Episode 0196 -- Pictured: (l-r) Journalist Brian Williams during an interview with host Jimmy Fallon on January 16, 2015 -- (Photo by: Douglas Gorenstein/NBC/NBCU Photo Bank via Getty Images)
LATE NIGHT WITH SETH MEYERS -- Episode 065 -- Pictured: (l-r) NBC News' Brian Williams during an interview with host Seth Meyers on July 7, 2014 -- (Photo by: Lloyd Bishop/NBC/NBCU Photo Bank via Getty Images)
Ron Meyer (L), president & COO of Universal Studios and Brian Williams, NBC network news anchorman, attend the world premiere of 'Neighbors,' April 28, 2014 at the Regency Village Theater in Los Angeles, California. Man at right in unidentified. AFP PHOTO / ROBYN BECK (Photo credit should read ROBYN BECK/AFP/Getty Images)
NBC NEWS-EVENTS -- Education Nation: New York Summit, Day 3 -- Pictured: Brian Williams at NBC News' Education Nation Summit at the New York Public Library in New York on Tuesday, September 25, 2012 -- (Photo by: Charles Sykes/NBC/NBCU Photo Bank via Getty Images)
NBC NEWS-EVENTS -- Education Nation: New York Summit, Day 3 -- Pictured: Brian Williams and Governor Mitt Romney at NBC News' Education Nation Summit at the New York Public Library in New York on Tuesday, September 25, 2012 -- (Photo by: Charles Sykes/NBC/NBCU Photo Bank via Getty Images)
TODAY -- Pictured: (l-r) Matt Lauer and Brian Williams appear on NBC News' 'Today' show (Photo by Peter Kramer/NBC/NBCU Photo Bank via Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NY - APRIL 23: NBC News anchor Brian Williams and his wife, Jane Stoddard Williams attend the Tribeca Talks Directors Series with Robert De Niro and Brian Williams during the 10th annual Tribeca Film Festival at BMCC Tribeca PAC on April 23, 2011 in New York City. (Photo by Bobby Bank/WireImage)
NBC NIGHTLY NEWS WITH BRIAN WILLIAMS -- Pictured: Brian Williams -- As protesters converged on the heart of Cairo in droves on Tuesday, NBC News' Brian Williams was there to speak with those who responded to the call for Egyptians to unite in the largest protest yet in a week of unceasing demands for President Hosni Mubarak to leave (Photo by Subrata De/NBC/NBCU Photo Bank via Getty Images)
Brian Williams, anchor and managing editor of NBC Nightly News, speaks at the Women's Conference Tuesday, Oct. 26, 2010, in Long Beach, Calif. (AP Photo/Matt Sayles)
Event co-hosts Brian Williams, left, and Katie Couric at the "Stand Up To Cancer" television event at Sony Studios in Culver City, Calif., on Friday, Sept. 10, 2010. The fundraising event aimed to raise funds for cancer research was simulcast live on several network and cable television stations. (AP Photo/Matt Sayles)
NBC News Anchor Brian Williams attends the premiere screening of 'Faces of America With Dr. Henry Louis Gates Jr.' at Jazz at Lincoln Center on Monday, Feb. 1, 2010 in New York. (AP Photo/Evan Agostini)
** FILE ** In this May 28, 2008 file photo, CBS "Evening News" anchor Katie Couric, center, NBC "Nightly News" anchor Brian Williams, left, and ABC "World News" anchor Charles Gibson, right, are interviewed on the NBC 'Today' show in New York. (AP Photo/Richard Drew, file)
NBC commentator Brian Williams talks to the crowd who assembled to hear the first Democratic presidential primary debate of the 2008 election hosted by South Carolina State University in Orangeburg, S.C., Thursday, April 26, 2007. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)
Brian Williams, with the NBC Nightly News, reports from the Virginia Tech campus in Blacksburg, Va., on Monday, April 16, 2007. A gunman killed 32 people at Virginia Tech in the deadliest shooting rampage in modern U.S. history Monday. (AP Photo/The Roanoke Times, Stephanie Klein-Davis)
Brian Williams, left, anchor of "NBC Nightly News," talks about the program along with Steve Capus, president of NBC News, at the Summer Television Critics Association press tour Friday, July 21, 2006, in Pasadena, Calif. (AP Photo/Reed Saxon)
Photo by: Jackson Lee/starmaxinc.com �2005 ALL RIGHTS RESERVED Telephone/Fax: (212) 995-1196 11/16/05 Brian Williams and wife at an American Museum of Natural History Benefit. (NYC) (Star Max via AP Images)
NBC's Brian Williams smiles during a news conference Tuesday, May 28, 2002, in New York. Williams will succeed Tom Brokaw as anchorman of NBC's "Nightly News" in 2004, as NBC becomes the first of the three networks to announce a succession plan for their chief anchors. (AP Photo/ Diane Bondareff)
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The latest twist in the Brian Williams saga came Sunday, when CNN reported that NBC News is exploring options outside of his former anchor desk that would allow him to continue his career at the company he's called home since 1993.

But both Williams and NBC News are deluding themselves if they think such a move will put an end to this controversy.

The prospect of Williams returning to the helm at "NBC Nightly News" appears to be a non-starter now that Lester Holt is showing enough ratings strength at 6:30 p.m. to stay competitive with ABC News. Had Holt's numbers declined precipitously enough, new NBC News chief Andrew Lack would have been in a far worse position: sticking with Williams despite his tainted reputation because the audience of he can probably still command even with his diminished stature.

But with Holt now looking like a permanent replacement, Lack still has a tough decision to make with Williams. If Lack considers the anchor radioactive enough to keep him off the air in any capacity, NBC News would be forced to get nothing in return for the substantial payout they'd be forced to hand Williams on the way out the door at 30 Rock.

That's likely a big reason why Lack is trying to figure out another role for Williams, not to mention he's a good insurance policy if Holt's ratings start to tank and NBC gets desperate to stop the bleeding.

It's hard to believe that's what Williams would want because anything but the anchor chair will be perceived as a demotion. But unless the unlikely possibility that another news operation is prepared to give him a prominent role, his options are limited.

That doesn't leave him with much to do at NBC. It's possible Williams could be carted off to an existing primetime newsmagazine like "Dateline," where he could serve as anchor or correspondent. But the notion that he is going to spend the rest of his career in some quasi-journalistic backwater like "Dateline" narrating true-crime stories seems a fate worse than early retirement.

Whatever role he would accept at NBC News, he would likely want to be involved with the kind of substantive stories that he trafficked in at the anchor desk, and those stories will require he restore his reputation–so the network doesn't really solve its problems by finding Williams another perch outside the anchor desk.

Lack could also opt to create a new "special correspondent" role for Williams to tackle big stories for various NBC News outlets beyond "Nightly News." But Williams might want to give Ann Curry a call before accepting such an assignment. After her awkward ouster from "Today," Curry was awarded a similar consolation prize and proceeded to spend the next few years floating like a ghost around the news division doing nothing of note. Having exited NBC in January, Curry clearly made the wrong career choice, letting the brand equity she built up at "Today" dissipate when she would have been better served jumping ship while still a known quantity.

Maybe Lack will figure out a more defined role for Williams so that he avoids Curry's fate, but does it really matter where exactly he ends up? Whether Williams is an anchor or not, or on NBC or some other network, his credibility problem will be waiting for him.

Yes, the "Nightly News" is more journalistically rigorous than most other parts of the NBC News ecosystem. But where Lack's calculus falls apart is that doesn't mean Williams isn't going to be held to some semblance of standards at, say, MSNBC or CNBC. If anything, shipping Williams off to any program would effectively be advertising it as, "This is Program X, Where We Don't Care So Much About Truth."

There is no career path available to Williams that afford him an end run around what he wants to avoid but cannot escape: a reckoning with the allegations made against him in a public forum. He's in the bad position he is in today because he compounded his sin with lackluster apologies.

What he has to do no matter where he ends up next is clear the air by discussing the allegations at length and in detail; convey a sense of understanding the magnitude of what was done; and express some heartfelt contrition. Then and only then does he have a shot at redemption.

If Lack or Williams thought that serving time for his six-month suspension would simply wipe the slate clean like a hockey player jumping back on the ice after sitting in the penalty box, they're being naive.

What NBC should do is take an hour out of primetime to air the findings of the internal investigation against Williams, who should sit with someone as respected as Tom Brokaw for a tough interview. It's a tough road toward earning the forgiveness of the American public, but there's no other way for him to go.

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