NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) — New revelations about Brian Williams appeared in a New York Magazine article released this past weekend, including that the anchorman wanted to be a comic host and was even willing to leave NBC to do it.
As CBS2’s Dick Brennan reported, writer Gabriel Sherman penned the in-depth look at turmoil at NBC News, which was published Sunday.
“Chaos is what’s going on over there,” Sherman said. “I mean, this is a news network in meltdown.”
And at the center of the storm was Williams, who is in the midst of serving a six-month suspension for telling tall tales about his war coverage. But Sherman’s article said even before the scandal, Williams had tired of just reading the teleprompter, and wanted to go Hollywood.
“This is the story of man who wanted to get out of news,” Sherman said. “He wanted to move into the world of late-night comedy. He tried to take over Jay Leno’s job. He actually tried to take over David Letterman’s job, and when those opportunities didn’t pan out, he really was at a crossroads in his career.”
The article said Williams told NBC Universal chief executive officer Steve Burke he wanted to take over the “Tonight Show,” but that Burke dismissed the idea and instead put Williams on a weekly prime-time program called “Rock Center.”
“Williams hoped it might develop into a variety show,” Sherman wrote in the article. “But ‘Rock Center’ ended up more like a softer ‘60 Minutes,’ and it was canceled after two middling seasons.”
And Williams apparently had little support with the troops when he found himself in trouble. Among them, the senior statesman of the NBC Nightly News, Tom Brokaw, who Sherman said had a frosty relationship with his successor.
“Brian Williams really felt that express pressure to live up to Brokaw’s legacy, and he told Chuck Todd, shortly after Chuck Todd became moderator of ‘Meet the Press’ that, ‘At least your ghost is dead; mine is still walks the building,’ meaning Tim Russert,” Sherman said. “And Brokaw still has an office at NBC. He hasn’t really left.”
Staffers were said to be upset with Williams approach to NBC Nightly News, which meant that he didn’t want anything “divisive on the program”, no matter how newsworthy.
“NBC is known for their investigative reporting. They did some really tough stories on Obamacare, and whether the White House Knew if people would lose their policies,” Sherman said. “And Brian Williams did not want that story on ‘Nightly News.’”
So where does Brian Williams and ‘Nightly News’ go from here? So far, the ratings have held with Lester Holt in the chair.
“How are they going to take a guy off the air who has stepped into this role, done well, and then say, oh, after six months: ‘You know what? We’re going to bring back the disgraced anchor who has caused us so much trouble?’” Sherman said.
In the article, Sherman wrote that the scandal was a “release valve” to resentment that had been building for some time against Williams, and quoted a senior journalist as saying, “Very, very few people like him.”
Williams apologized last month for falsely claiming that he was in helicopter that had been hit by a grenade while in Iraq in 2003 a week earlier during a “Nightly News” tribute to a veteran he had befriended during his trip. Before expressing his regrets on the air, Williams did so online and in an interview with the newspaper Stars & Stripes.
He speculated online that constant viewing of video showing him inspecting the damaged helicopter “and the fog of memory over 12 years, made me conflate the two, and I apologize.”
His story had morphed through the years.
Shortly after the incident, Williams had described on NBC how he was traveling in a group of helicopters forced down in the Iraq desert. On the ground, he learned the Chinook in front of him “had almost been blown out of the sky;” he showed a photo of it with a gash from a rocket-propelled grenade.
The NBC crew and military officials accompanying them spent three days in the desert, kept aground by a sandstorm.
But in a 2008 blog post, Williams said his helicopter had come under fire from what appeared to be Iraqi farmers with RPGs. He said a helicopter in front of his had been hit.
Williams is now said to be strategizing to get his job back, and repair his reputation. But he apparently cannot grant any interviews until his suspension is up in six months.