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Could Brian Williams return to NBC in non-journalistic role?

Using unnamed sources, CNN's Brian Stelter Sunday reported that NBC is considering a possible return for suspended anchorman Brian Williams - but not as an anchorman or managing editor. Here's a discussion abotu it involving me, Variety Editor Andrew Wallenstein and Stelter.
Using unnamed sources, CNN's Brian Stelter Sunday reported that NBC is considering a possible return for suspended anchorman Brian Williams - but not as an anchorman or managing editor. Here's a discussion abotu it involving me, Variety Editor Andrew Wallenstein and Stelter. (CNN screengrab)

NBC is considering bringing back Brian Williams after his suspension ends in August -- but not necessarily in a journalistic role.

That's what CNN's Brian Stelter reported Sunday morning, citing unnamed sources. I believe it's a trial balloon from inside NBC hoping to gauge reaction, but that doesn't make it any less intriguing.

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I joined Stelter, along with "Variety" Co-Editor-in-Chief Andrew Wallenstein, to discuss the report on CNN's "Reliable Sources" today. (See the video here.)

From the moment "Stars and Stripes" reported Williams' lies about his combat coverage, I was saying he should be removed from the anchor desk and stripped of his title as managing editor of "NBC Nightly News." For all the people telling me how unkind I am to Williams, I have not wavered an inch. He must never be identified again with NBC News. He forfeited that right by his lies.

But the idea of bringing him back as, say, a game show host or a frontman for a reality series, at least, makes sense if NBC is stuck with any portion of the 5-year $50 million contract he signed in December. Credibility doesn't matter when it comes to game shows or reality TV programs -- two dishonest genres for which Williams seems a good match.

But the big question is: Why should NBC be on the hook for any part of his salary?

He was the face and leader on "Nightly News," a franchise that demands credibility. Since signing the contract, it was revealed that he was a serial liar who tried to steal the honor of soldiers, sailors and Marines by lying about what he did in combat reporting. In doing so, he damaged the credibility and, therefore, the brand of "Nightly" and NBC News.

Why in the world should NBC be forced to pay off his contract after he damaged the brand? I have never seen a contract that says, "We will keep paying you even after you become a liability to the brand because of your dishonest and unethical behavior."

This really makes me mad, because so many of my colleagues, bought into the "too big to fail" philosophy, which resulted in no one from Wall Street paying for the sins of 2008, in predicting Williams would be allowed back at the anchor desk and all would be forgotten and forgiven.

If that happens, it won't be forgotten or forgiven here. I can guarantee you that.

But a smarmy game show or sleazy reality program host? Perfect!

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