Brian Williams’ future as anchor of “NBC Nightly News” is still undecided, but it’s looking bleak.
NBC News officials continue to say the internal review into Williams’ reporting is ongoing and no decision has been made about whether he will return from his current suspension, which began Feb. 11. Williams was benched after falsely stating he was in a helicopter that was hit by a rocket-propelled grenade during the 2003 U.S. invasion of Iraq.
However, the chatter among members of the TV news industry -- many of whom were in Washington this weekend for the annual dinner of the White House Correspondents' Assn. -- is that they cannot see a path for Williams to return.
“If there was, don’t you think we’d be hearing about it by now?” said one NBC News veteran.
Speculation that Williams is a goner heated up as several reports based on unnamed sources said that NBC’s internal review found numerous situations in which the anchor publicly made embellished statements about his reporting. An NBC News spokeswoman declined to comment.
Despite previous reports that suggested NBC wants to get the issue resolved before upfront ad sales for the 2015-16 season begin next week, an executive close to the matter said NBC News Chairman Andy Lack is under no pressure to make a call on Williams soon.
The investigation is continuing, the executive said, and a decision on Williams’ fate is still at least five weeks away.
Under the terms of his suspension, Williams is muzzled by NBC and cannot respond to the negative stories about further alleged problems with his reporting.
Even if the results of the review leave an opening to bring Williams back, Lack will also have to consider the impact on his organization’s morale.
There has been no public statement from anyone at NBC News calling for Williams to return to the anchor chair. His support among the rank and file in the division is said to be thin.
There is also the issue of unseating current anchor Lester Holt, who due to Williams’ suspension has become the first solo African American network evening news anchor.
Aside from the historic aspect of Holt’s status, his colleagues hold the veteran of the news division in high esteem.
Since Holt took over, “NBC Nightly News” ratings have slowly eroded at a rate that one evening news competitor said should have the network “moderately” concerned. The broadcast has slipped into second place in total viewers behind “ABC World News Tonight with David Muir” while remaining about even in the advertiser-favored 25-to-54 age group.
But it has not been the full-out collapse that could have happened when a popular anchor is yanked from a program.
Perhaps another sign that the prospects of Williams coming back are fading is that he came up twice in “Saturday Night Live” cast member Cecily Strong’s monologue at the correspondents dinner.
NBC’s late-night hosts and comedy programs, all under the supervision of executive producer Lorne Michaels, have steered clear of making light of Williams’ situation. The anchor had been a popular guest on "The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon," once hosted "SNL," and is friendly with "Late Night" host Seth Meyers.