NPI's Cascadia Advocate

Offering commentary and analysis from Washington, Oregon, and Idaho, The Cascadia Advocate is the Northwest Progressive Institute's unconventional perspective on world, national, and local politics.

Tuesday, February 10th, 2015

NBC’s Brian Williams suspended for six months; Jon Stewart to leave The Daily Show

Today, some­thing remark­able hap­pened: The host of a fake news show made real news by announc­ing his depar­ture from the pro­gram he has helmed since 1999, while the host of a real news show was sus­pend­ed by his net­work for fak­ing details about his expe­ri­ence as a war zone reporter over ten years ago.

Who would have thought that Bri­an Williams — for years the face of NBC News — would be exiled from the anchor desk for six months by his net­work’s exec­u­tives on the same day that Jon Stew­art revealed his plans to leave The Dai­ly Show?

Stew­art, at least, is going out on his own terms, and at the near peak of what has been an incred­i­ble run at Com­e­dy Cen­tral as the host of its flag­ship pro­gram:

Mr. Stew­art, whose con­tract with Com­e­dy Cen­tral ends in Sep­tem­ber, dis­closed his plans dur­ing a tap­ing of the pro­gram on Tues­day.

Say­ing that “in my heart, I know it is time for some­one else” to have the oppor­tu­ni­ty he had, Mr. Stew­art told his audi­ence that he was still work­ing out the details of his depar­ture, which “might be Decem­ber, might be July.”

“I don’t have any spe­cif­ic plans,” Mr. Stew­art said, address­ing the cam­era at the end of his show, at times seem­ing close to tears. “Got a lot of ideas. I got a lot of things in my head. I’m going to have din­ner on a school night with my fam­i­ly, who I have heard from mul­ti­ple sources are love­ly peo­ple.”

“I’m not going any­where tomor­row,” Mr. Stew­art added, “but this show doesn’t deserve an even slight­ly rest­less host, and nei­ther do you.” Com­e­dy Cen­tral did not elab­o­rate on the future of the show, except to say that it “will endure for years to come.”

I can­not imag­ine The Dai­ly Show with­out Jon Stew­art. After six­teen years, he has come to per­son­i­fy the show. Cor­re­spon­dents have come and gone, with many going on to have suc­cess­ful careers in tele­vi­sion and film (Steve Car­rell, Stephen Col­bert, Ed Helms, John Oliv­er, Lar­ry Wilmore) but Jon Stew­art has con­tin­u­ous­ly been a reas­sur­ing pres­ence behind the desk of Com­e­dy Cen­tral’s pre­mier pro­gram.

It was tough to lose the Col­bert Report back in Decem­ber, but Jon’s depar­ture from The Dai­ly Show will be tougher still. I did­n’t expect Stew­art to remain host for­ev­er, but I also was­n’t antic­i­pat­ing that he’d leave this year. He’ll be step­ping away in the midst of a pres­i­den­tial cam­paign, just when this coun­try needs him the most.

The Dai­ly Show with Jon Stew­art helped me and a great many oth­er pro­gres­sive activists get through the Bush error. In the wake of the Sep­tem­ber 11th attacks, when Bush and Cheney exploit­ed a nation’s fears to wage war on false pre­tens­es, Jon Stew­art was a voice of san­i­ty speak­ing truth to pow­er through com­e­dy.

More recent­ly, Stew­art has done more than any­body else, with the pos­si­ble excep­tion of David Brock and Media Mat­ters, to hold the Fox Noise Chan­nel account­able for its lies and right wing pro­pa­gan­da. Stew­art’s team of writ­ers and artists at The Dai­ly Show have pro­duced a count­less num­ber of excel­lent mon­tages expos­ing Fox as the giant cog in the Repub­li­can Noise Machine that it is.

They may say they’re just try­ing to enter­tain us, but we here at NPI con­sid­er their body of work to be a pub­lic ser­vice as well as great com­e­dy.

If I had to pick one word to describe the impact of the The Dai­ly Show is, it might well be ther­a­peu­tic. It’s no fun feel­ing frus­trat­ed and out­raged all the time, nor is it healthy. Evening after evening, Jon Stew­art has soft­ened the blow of bad news with an incred­i­bly fun­ny mono­logue. His show has been a great way to end the day.

Long-run­ning Dai­ly Show con­trib­u­tor Lewis Black once explained dur­ing one of his standup spe­cials for Com­e­dy Cen­tral why com­e­dy is so valu­able.

“All you have to do is look at our ene­my,” Black declared. “That’s a group that does not have a sense of humor. That’s a group that has just… snapped. And that’s what hap­pens when you don’t laugh. You get all wound up in what you’re believ­ing in and nobody’s going, ha-ha, and you’re… you’re screwed!”

Those words still ring true today.

Stew­art may be incom­pa­ra­ble, but he can’t be irre­place­able if The Dai­ly Show is to con­tin­ue. Who will Com­e­dy Cen­tral bring in to fill the giant shoes Stew­art is leav­ing behind? One name I’ve seen thrown around a lot is Amy Poehler, for­mer­ly of Sat­ur­day Night Live and cur­rent­ly the star of Parks and Recre­ation, which is in its final sea­son at NBC. I could see Poehler, who used to anchor Week­end Update on SNL, as the suc­ces­sor to Stew­art. But the show won’t be the same with­out him.

Com­e­dy Cen­tral at least has time to fig­ure out Stew­art’s exit and plan the future of The Dai­ly Show. NBC News, on the oth­er hand, is sim­ply reel­ing from the scan­dal that has enveloped Night­ly News anchor Bri­an Williams.

The net­work’s news divi­sion, which is used to report­ing the news (not being the news) announced today that Williams has been sus­pend­ed for six months with­out any pay. It’s unlike­ly we’ll be see­ing much of him dur­ing his net­work-imposed exile. But, as they say on Broad­way, the show must go on. Some­one will have to present the news, and that per­son, at least for the time being, will be Lester Holt.

Dur­ing Williams’ leave, the net­work will con­tin­ue its inter­nal inves­ti­ga­tion of his con­duct, though its exec­u­tives say they believes he deserves a sec­ond chance. NBC News Pres­i­dent Deb­o­rah Tur­ness explained NBC’s deci­sion in a memo to staff:

As Man­ag­ing Edi­tor and Anchor of Night­ly News, Bri­an has a respon­si­bil­i­ty to be truth­ful and to uphold the high stan­dards of the news divi­sion at all times.

Steve Burke, Pat Fili and I came to this deci­sion togeth­er. We felt it would have been wrong to dis­re­gard the good work Bri­an has done and the spe­cial rela­tion­ship he has forged with our view­ers over 22 years. Mil­lions of Amer­i­cans have turned to him every day, and he has been an impor­tant and well-respect­ed part of our orga­ni­za­tion.

As I’m sure you under­stand, this was a very hard deci­sion. Cer­tain­ly there will be those who dis­agree. But we believe this sus­pen­sion is the appro­pri­ate and pro­por­tion­ate action.

Poyn­ter’s Al Tomp­kins post­ed some analy­sis ear­li­er today which exam­ines why NBC decid­ed to sus­pend Williams instead of fire him.

A sus­pen­sion gives the net­work time to assess the dam­age Williams has done to his cred­i­bil­i­ty. It also gives the net­work time to see if pos­si­ble suc­ces­sors, like Lester Holt, can attract enough view­ers to keep NBC from slip­ping out of first place in the evening news race. If not, NBC can rotate in oth­er tem­po­rary replace­ments until they find a good fit.

Then, in mid-August, when TV news view­er­ship is at its low­est, Williams could come back to work. There would be time to react if there is audi­ence blow­back before the fall sea­son and the Novem­ber rat­ings peri­od.

If NBC News’ inter­nal inves­ti­ga­tion finds that Williams faked details while he was in New Orleans cov­er­ing Hur­ri­cane Kat­ri­na in 2005, or fudged oth­er sto­ries, then he may not be brought back at all. And it’s hard to fath­om what oth­er news orga­ni­za­tion might want to employ him.

It’s been sad to watch Williams’ career implode the last few days. But Bri­an brought this on him­self. He did­n’t have to embell­ish and fal­si­fy his expe­ri­ences in Iraq.

There’s been some jok­ing on social media that Williams could suc­ceed Stew­art as the host of The Dai­ly Show, but that won’t hap­pen. The Dai­ly Show has thrived (and won twen­ty Emmys) thanks to the comedic bril­liance of its host and writ­ing staff. Com­e­dy Cen­tral will most like­ly be seek­ing out a proven, avail­able tal­ent like Amy Poehler to car­ry the pro­gram for­ward into its next era, while NBC tries to keep its lead over ABC and CBS’s evening news broad­casts with Lester Holt as anchor.

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2 Comments

  1. After the OJ Simp­son deba­cle, some 20 years ago, noth­ing real­ly sur­pris­es me any­more.

    # by Mike Barer :: February 11th, 2015 at 7:01 AM
  2. Then we should pause and remem­ber Bob Simon who risked it all to become one of TV’s pre­mier for­eign cor­re­spon­dents.

    # by Mike Barer :: February 11th, 2015 at 11:25 PM