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The Bigger Brian Williams Scandal: The News He Kept Off The Air

Talk about burying the lead.

Gabriel Sherman's insider exploration of the Brian Williams saga for New York is rife with mundane office politics and power struggles until deep in the story when we get the real news.

Too bad no on seems to recognize it.

Take the Poynter Institute, for example, one of the industry's leading training grounds.

Their headline on Sherman's story: "Brian Williams Reportedly Lobbied To Succeed David Letterman."

We kind of knew that already.

Their capsule aggregation? Here:

More tales of tumult from inside NBC News

Gabriel Sherman's much-anticipated longread about the turmoil surrounding Brian Williams' suspension from the anchor chair dropped Sunday. Among the juiciest tidbits: Williams asked CBS CEO Les Moonves to be considered as a replacement for David Letterman upon the comedian's retirement from "Late Show," according to "a high-level source"; Four NBC and NBCUniversal officials visited Williams at his apartment to notify him he was being taken off the air; Richard Esposito, the investigative producer at NBC News conducting a review of Williams, "delivered a 45-minute presentation at [NBCUniversal CEO Steve] Burke's apartment" that unearthed "more issues" with Williams' disputed claims; Williams can't talk to the press under the terms of his suspension and "can't wait until he can speak" publicly about the situation, according to "a close friend." (New York) | "If Brian Williams proposed to CBS that he take over when Letterman retires, that alone is reason he should not return" (@jayrosen_nyu) | "Last weekend, workers at NBC's Rockefeller Center headquarters briefly wiped away promotional photos of Brian Williams." They went back up the next day. (CNN Money)

What a sad display of the industry's focus on gossipy power dramas instead of the actual, you know, news.

Because what Brian Williams did to the news is the real scoop here. But you had to go deep into the story to get it.

Others complained about Williams's unwillingness to go after hard-hitting stories. Multiple sources told me that former NBC investigative reporters Michael Isikoff and Lisa Myers battled with Williams over stories. In February 2013, Isikoff failed to interest Williams in a piece about a confidential Justice Department memo that justified killing American citizens with drones. He instead broke the story on [The] Rachel Maddow [Show]. That October, Myers couldn't get Williams to air a segment about how the White House knew as far back as 2010 that some people would lose their insurance policies under Obamacare. Frustrated, Myers posted the article on [C]NBC's website, where it immediately went viral. Williams relented and ran it the next night. "He didn't want to put stories on the air that would be divisive," a senior NBC journalist told me. According to a source, Myers wrote a series of scathing memos to then-NBC senior vice-president Antoine Sanfuentes documenting how Williams suppressed her stories. Myers and Isikoff eventually left the network (and both declined to comment).

How is that not what we're all talking about now? I don't even care if he saw a dead body in New Orleans anymore; this is of far bigger import.

And as I discussed on The Beachwood Radio Hour #47, it's particularly appalling because of Williams' amazingly arrogant, blinded reply to a question he once received about the mainstream media's credibility in the wake of its failures in reporting the run-up to the Iraq War.

Watch this (embedding disabled).

It turns out Williams actually was hiding the news behind a curtain in New York the whole time.


Comments welcome.


Posted on March 10, 2015

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