Frank Rich: NBC's Marketing Of Brian Williams Made His Fiasco 'Probably Irreparable'

04/09/2015 03:16 pm ET | Updated Apr 09, 2015

Frank Rich isn't optimistic that NBC will be able to welcome Brian Williams back to the network at the end of his six-month suspension because of the way they've marketed the anchor, he explained in a HuffPost Live interview on Thursday.

"They promoted [Williams] relentlessly as the guy who goes there, who's this fighter for the news and goes to dangerous zones and it creates this image," the New York Magazine columnist told host Josh Zepps. He likened the situation to "The Wizard Of Oz," where "you pull away the curtain and it's Professor Marvel -- it's not the Wizard of Oz."

"That's their problem," Rich said, referring to NBC, "[and] that's probably irreparable for Williams."

Williams came under fire in February after claiming that his helicopter was shot down while he'd been reporting in Iraq in 2003. He later admitted it was not true and that he'd "misremembered."

The controversy ignited a wave of fact-checking the narratives of fellow news anchors. Fox's Bill O'Reilly was quickly suspected of making similar mistakes, but according to Rich, the nature of O'Reilly's TV program and reputation have made his missteps more passable.

O'Reilly and Williams are "like apples and oranges," Rich said. "O'Reilly is an opinion guy. He's a commentator. It's more of a talk show in a way than a news show."

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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.
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