03/09/2015 06:42 pm ET | Updated Mar 09, 2015

Gabriel Sherman: Brian Williams Fiasco Should Bring The End Of 'Unfettered' Anchor Power

In a thorough New York magazine piece published Sunday, Gabriel Sherman detailed how bad things had gotten at NBC before the Brian Williams saga got out of hand, and how deep the network's troubles are, even outside of Williams. Sherman appeared on HuffPost Live on Monday to talk about the piece and how Williams' suspension could change the structure of nightly news shows going forward.

"I think the fact that Brian Williams was allowed to amass so much power ... I think we need to ask ourselves this question: how did that discredited segment, where he tells this fantastical story about being blown out of the sky by an RPG in Iraq, how did that get on the air?," he told host Ricky Camilleri. "That script was written. The segment was packaged. It was put into the lineup. Brian Williams can't do that alone."

Before his six-month suspension, Williams was anchor and managing editor of "The NBC Nightly News," meaning he had full editorial control over the show's content. His predecessor, Tom Brokaw, and "CBS Evening News" legend Dan Rather held similar control of their own programs. Sherman thinks that system only enables tales like Williams'.

"You don't need more of a sign of somebody having unfettered power than that segment, because Brian Williams convinced all these people around him to go along with a story that did not pass the smell test," he said. "That exposes a bigger question. Going forward, NBC News should not allow the anchor to be both the anchor and the managing editor. It's fundamentally a conflict of interest. The anchor needs an editor to keep them in check."

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  • 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.