Bounced from his cushy chair as anchor of “NBC Nightly News,” disgraced journalist Brian Williams will be moving to what his bosses today termed a “new role anchoring breaking news for MSNBC.” The new gig starts in mid-August, declared the network in a press release.
The decision to drop Williams into the cable network’s newsgathering mix aligns with recent strategic decisions at MSNBC. In a year-ending memo in December, MSNBC President Phil Griffin articulated a shift toward more news: “We’re going to get on the road — and outside of Washington — a lot more,” said Griffin. That message drew reinforcement from the decision in March to install Thomas Roberts in the 1 to 3 p.m. slot, an effort to make MSNBC programming more “news focused.”
So there’s the logic of these events: MSNBC is trying to do more news; Williams has tons of experience broadcasting breaking news; let’s get him suited up and ready to go. “Brian being able to serve in this role will certainly add to those efforts,” said an MSNBC spokeswoman.
Put to the side for the moment the fact that dropping Williams into MSNBCville opens a freshly exposed flank for a news operation that already has too many of them.
With that exercise accomplished, how on earth will this arrangement work? Asked about that matter, the MSNBC spokeswoman responded that Williams will be “specially focused on dayside programming,” which could mean any number of things:
1) MSNBC’s prime-timers refuse to yield airtime to a proven embellisher.
2) MSNBC isn’t so committed to newsy coverage that it wants to boot the commentary of its primetime lineup.
3) Williams is tired of working evenings.
Network executives can glibly talk about sliding a big name into the programming stream to cover breaking news. That’s an easy thing to say. Much tougher is actually doing it. Fox News in 2013 declared that Shepard Smith would be its breaking news czar, equipped with all kinds of big-screen monstrosities and a shiny new studio, the better to break in any time news comes calling. Smith had the advantage of acceding to that arrangement without a whole docket of documented untruths.
Will the longtime anchor big-foot a reputable workhorse like Andrea Mitchell (noon slot) or José Díaz-Balart (9 a.m. slot) just because something significant is happening? The MSNBC spokeswoman didn’t provide details on the mechanics of the arrangement, saying that there are a couple of months to sort out such things. The company’s press release indicated that Williams would work on NBC News live special reports when now-permanent “NBC Nightly News” anchor Lester Holt isn’t available.
Depending on news flows, Williams could find himself a tad underemployed. MSNBC passed along this inventory of recent breaking news coverage moments:
• NewsNation w/ Tarmon Hall: Lindsey Graham presidential bid announcement (11:20am ET)
• Andrea Mitchell Reports: NYT report that NSA secretly expanded internet spying at US border (12:06pmET)
• Andrea Mitchell Reports: Live Anthrax sent to 52 labs in 18 states (12:12pmET)
• Andrea Mitchell Reports: First look at weapons in WH jumper’s car (12:14pmET)
• Andrea Mitchell Reports: Rick Perry presidential bid announcement (12:41pmet)
• The Rundown with José Díaz-Balart: President Obama’s remarks at the G7 Summit in Germany (10:07amET)
• UP w/ Steve Kornacki: Gunman open fire at police headquarters in Dallas (8:02 amET)
• UP w/ Steve Kornacki: Dallas Police Chief presser (9:32amET)
• Melissa Harris-Perry: Hillary Clinton campaign launch speech (11:47amET)
• MSNBC Live w/ Thomas Roberts: Rachel Dolezal resignation (2:00pmET)
• MSNBC Live w/ Thomas Roberts: Hillary Clinton press conference in NH (2:42pmET)
• NOW w/ Alex Wagner: Jeb Bush presidential bid announcement (4:00pmET)
• NewsNation w/ Tamron Hall: Donald Trump’s presidential bid announcement (10:59amET)
• MSNBC Live w/ Thomas Roberts: Tropical Storm Bill makes landfall (2:16pm ET)
• NewsNation w/ Tamron Hall: Ceremony for A.G. Loretta Lynch (11:23amET)
• MSNBC Live w/ Thomas Roberts: Officials Expand Search Area for Escaped Inmates (12:59pmET)
Scrutinize that inventory. How many of those events warrant rearranging the normal course of programming to accommodate the voice of MSNBC’s chief exaggerator?