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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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  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
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