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Former ABC News President Says Industry Partly To Blame For Brian Williams Fiasco

02/09/2015 12:18 pm ET | Updated Feb 09, 2015

In a HuffPost Live interview Monday, former ABC News president David Westin laid blame on both Brian Williams for his lying mess and on the television industry as an enabling force for Williams' behavior in the first place.

Williams found himself the scourge of the news cycle last week when he admitted to making up a story about being on board a helicopter that was struck down while reporting on the Iraq War. Since, other stories Williams has told over the years have also come into question.

Williams has taken leave from his post at NBC Nightly News for "several days," he said in a memo to NBC News staff.

Westin explained to HuffPost Live's Ricky Camilleri on Monday how the nature of the news industry contributed to Williams' falsehood.

"Right now, I think there's a lot of schadenfreude going around in television news," Westin told host . "I think the much more important point, and this maybe underlies part of what Tom [Brokaw] was trying to say, is I think across the industry now, there is a tendency to try to build up our reporters into an important part of the story themselves. Instead of going out in dangerous circumstances and tell us what's happening, they too often put themselves in the middle of the story. I think that is a bad thing."

Westin, who served as ABC News chief from 1997 to 2010, said while he has tremendous respect for Williams, NBC must make a strong statement with how the network responds to the crisis.

"My initial reaction was a sick feeling in the pit of my stomach, because anyone who runs one of these organizations knows that on any given day, something can go horribly wrong. I actually sympathized with NBC News and, for that matter, with Brian when I first heard about it," Westin said. "I know him to be a really able journalist and a very decent man, deep down inside."

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Also on HuffPost:

  • Lester Holt
    NBC NewsWire via Getty Images
    Holt currently anchors the weekend editions of "NBC Nightly News" and often fills in for Williams when he is out, including a several-week stint in 2013 when Williams underwent knee replacement surgery. He is the obvious choice for an interim replacement, if not a permanent one, should Williams be forced to step down. Holt has been in the NBC News family since 2000 and graduated with Williams from MSNBC to NBC News in 2005. He's since served as both "Dateline NBC" anchor and "Weekend Today" co-anchor.
  • Savannah Guthrie
    NBC NewsWire via Getty Images
    Guthrie has settled in well to the "Today" show after a delicate transition that saw her replace Ann Curry at the show's most beleaguered moment. Fresh off a contract extension that will keep her at the network for another three years, Guthrie could make the switch from morning to evening quite easily. She has the political bona fides from her previous roles as the network's White House correspondent and anchor of MSNBC's "The Daily Rundown," and she's said to be very well-liked inside the network. Williams himself recently told the Los Angeles Times, "If you polled the entire phone directory of NBC, you wouldn't come up with a negative word about her."
  • Matt Lauer
    NBC NewsWire via Getty Images
    The biggest star at the network outside Williams, Lauer is on contract with NBC through 2016. Apart from the sudden speculation about "Nightly News," the question of who will replace Lauer when he leaves "Today" has been the most buzzed-about choice NBC News is facing. One possible scenario could involve Josh Elliott, the former "Good Morning America" anchor recently brought over to NBC Sports, taking the spot on "Today" with Lauer heading to "Nightly." While his popularity -- particularly with women -- took a hit during the Curry transition, Lauer would bring the familiarity and the gravitas needed to smooth the possible tumult of Williams' exit.
  • Jake Tapper
    Angela Weiss via Getty Images
    Tapper left his role as ABC News' senior White House correspondent to join CNN in 2013 and, ostensibly, to become the new face of the network under Jeff Zucker's leadership. That hasn't quite panned out, with Zucker betting big on documentaries and original series starring the likes of Anthony Bourdain, and "CNN Tonight" host Don Lemon garnering headlines for his increasingly controversial statements. A move to "Nightly News" would represent a big step for Tapper, who last month averaged 666,000 total viewers as host of CNN's "The Lead." It would also give him an opportunity to take on ABC News, which passed him over for the moderator gig on "This Week." It doesn't hurt that Tapper has been establishing his own military chops, most notably with his book The Outpost: An Untold Story of American Valor, about one of the deadliest battles in Afghanistan.
  • Katie Couric
    Slaven Vlasic via Getty Images
    Couric is no stranger to NBC News or the evening news slot, having famously left a long reign at the "Today" show to anchor the "CBS Evening News." Couric garnered headlines in that role, especially after her 2008 sit-down with then-vice presidential nominee Sarah Palin, but in five years at the helm, she couldn't bring CBS out of third place. Now global news anchor at Yahoo, Couric could make a triumphant return to the network news fold and help NBC News out of its bind, or perhaps rejoin Lauer on "Today" should Guthrie get the "Nightly" chair. Her recent appearance in a Super Bowl ad for BMW alongside her former "Today" co-host Bryant Gumbel allowed her to show off her sense of humor while also reminding millions of Americans of her morning show past.
  • Jon Stewart
    NBC via Getty Images
    It's not going to happen. But NBC News did approach the "Daily Show" host at one point about replacing David Gregory on "Meet the Press," signaling that the network could potentially cast a wide net outside the traditional contenders for its flagship anchor role. Stewart later told Rolling Stone that it felt like a situation "where someone says, 'We really like what you do. Why don't you come over here and do something different, maybe something you don't do as well, for us?'" Stewart didn't seriously entertain the idea of joining NBC News, though perhaps his friend Brian Williams, who never seems to pass up a chance to crack jokes, might someday look to Comedy Central.
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