A penetrating Washington Post story on Brian Williams carried a number of insights on the negotiations between the embellishing anchorman and his bosses at NBC News and NBCUniversal. Among them — firing Williams was an active consideration; an internal NBC News investigation found instances of exaggeration beyond the tall tales Williams spread about his trip in a helicopter upon the invasion of Iraq in 2003; Williams was lobbying for a short suspension.
Another revelation addressed the tone of the discussions: “The internal discussions were ‘not contentious,’ a person familiar with the talks said.”
The identify of the “person familiar” is unclear. For more on the tenor of these talks, the Erik Wemple Blog turned to none other than Robert B. Barnett, the Williams & Connolly superlawyer who has unbeatable insider credentials when it comes to the Williams story. Those credentials are that he represents Williams on one side; he also has represented NBC News President Deborah Turness on the other side, though there’s no evidence that Barnett was engaged in discussions with Williams and Turness at the same time. “He is a walking conflict of interest,” one client told Mark Leibovich for his book “This Town,” which reports that the super-duper Washington operator represents 375 journalists and big-time political figures like Hillary Clinton and Sarah Palin. That bounty makes strange situations like this past weekend’s discussions all but inevitable.
So we rang up Barnett today for details on how not-contentious were the discussions. A receptionist steered the Erik Wemple Blog toward the inferior reportorial medium of electronic mail. When we sent Barnett a query on this key topic, he responded with an off-the-record insistence on not commenting.