Disgraced NBC news anchor Brian Williams has not given up on returning to the air and is working on a strategy that would allow him to salvage his career, TheWrap has learned.
Williams, suspended for six months from his nightly NBC newscast in the wake of misstatements about his experiences covering the Iraq War in 2003, is huddled with friends and advisors working on a strategy that would involve coming clean about his mistakes and apologizing fully to the public, an individual with knowledge of his thinking told TheWrap.
Williams is deeply distraught over his suspension, and acutely aware that he brought the situation on himself, according to knowledgeable individuals. But he and his advisors believe that if he takes full responsibility for his actions and seeks counseling he can come back to the air at NBC, despite the six month suspension.
Most media observers have said they do not think Williams will return to the air after this scandal, and interpreted the NBC suspension as a way to gain some distance and time to negotiate an exit for Williams.
“My guess is he’s not going to go back to NBC News,” Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism professor and former managing editor of NPR News, John Dinges, told TheWrap this week. “I don’t think he can recover from this.”
But Williams’ advisors and the anchor himself clearly think differently.
In announcing the extraordinary suspension, NBC News President Deborah Turness said on Tuesday Williams misrepresented on the air on Friday January 20 that he had been shot at in a helicopter while covering the Iraq War.
“It then became clear that on other occasions Brian had done the same while telling that story in other venues,” said Turness. “This was wrong and completely inappropriate for someone in Brian’s position.”
NBCU CEO Steve Burke has been furious at Williams over the incident, as was evidenced in his strong words in the suspension memo calling the anchor’s actions “inexcusable” and observing that “Brian has jeopardized the trust millions of Americans place in NBC News. ”
The suspension takes the immediate pressure off the network, but in fact it will be a matter of how the newscast performs under replacement anchor Lester Holt along with what a further investigation of Williams’ statements reveals.
According to a news network insider, Williams initially looked at the error as a one-off mistake for which he’d apologize and it might blow over. But as the media firestorm grew, he realized the gravity of the situation.
Now Williams is spending long hours with close friends and advisors who are helping him devise a strategy to emerge from the current suspension.
His advisors have told Williams that if further misstatements or exaggerations emerge from the newscast, his chances for coming back are slim. But if other errors amount to embellishing on late night talk shows, he may have a path at redemption with public apologies and seeking professional help to get to the heart of why he inserted himself into a life-threatening situation where he was not present.
Among the venues where he might apologize would be “60 Minutes,” or on a daytime talk show or even on Fox’s Bill O’Reilly, one insider suggested.
Even as NBC’s investigation into the of Williams’ misstatements goes on, only Williams himself knows the full extent of what he said to whom and when.
NBC News has not yet returned TheWrap’s request for comment
Jordan Chariton contributed to this report.