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Reports: Brian Williams Out As 'Nightly News' Anchor But Will Stay With NBC

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

Brian Williams was America's top-rated news anchor when he was suspended by NBC News four months ago. Some of the stories he told about himself were not true. Now it's reported NBC will announce Williams will lose his job at the "NBC Nightly News" and move to the cable channel MSNBC. Lester Holt, who's been filling in for Williams, is expected to become the permanent anchor. NPR TV critic Eric Deggans has been covering this story. Hi, Eric.

ERIC DEGGANS, BYLINE: Hi, Steve.

INSKEEP: Wow, what a fall for this man. He was an institution just a few months ago.

DEGGANS: Exactly. And it seems that Brian Williams' problems began earlier this year, when soldiers complained that he had exaggerated this incident from 2003, where he said he was aboard a helicopter that was forced down by enemy fire in Iraq when actually, he was on a different aircraft. And he apologized, but the incident called into question other things that he had talked about, both on the air in his in reporting and also on TV talk shows, personal appearances and press interviews. And within a week, he was suspended for six months without pay while NBC looked into some of these allegations. And Lester Holt wound up leading the program. Now, some news outlets have reported that the network uncovered more instances where he may have exaggerated things or made up things. And negotiations started to find a new role for Williams at the network at that point. Now, we still don't know what the results of that investigation will be or if NBC will make them public. But it seems to have led to what we're hearing now, that he's going to move to a new role at MSNBC.

INSKEEP: Well, help us understand that to the extent that it's known. It's decided that he can't be the anchor of the "NBC Nightly News." What can he do?

DEGGANS: Well, we should say that NPR has not independently confirmed this. But we've seen reports on CNN, The New York Times, Washington Post, that say that that's what they're trying to figure out; what can he do at MSNBC? Right now the idea is that he would be involved in breaking news and be the face of news coverage at MSNBC at a time when it's thought that they're going to ramp up their hard news coverage. And they need someone to be the face of that coverage and try to win back some of the viewers that they've lost in recent years. What's also interesting is that Brian Williams originally was groomed to be the top anchor at NBC at MSNBC. So in a sense, he's going to be returning to his roots.

INSKEEP: Eric, let me ask you as a TV critic, as a person who watches a lot of TV. You're watching TV. There's a breaking story. Brian Williams comes on. Obviously he's very talented; he'll be impressive in that way. Are you, as a viewer, going to be able to focus on what he's saying or still thinking about his past?

DEGGANS: Well, I'm thinking he's going to have to do something where he comes on and apologizes for what happens and explains what happened. I'm assuming he's going to do an interview with somebody from NBC News to make that happen. The question is whether they're going to give him a real role at MSNBC or whether they're going to park him in some ceremonial title, like they did with Ann Curry. But my hunch is that if they manage that transition well, then they'll develop a prime time show for him. And it can really showcase all the things he does well, being funny and entertaining in addition to delivering the news.

INSKEEP: Well, what does this mean for Lester Holt, a man who was popular within NBC and certainly seems to be popular outside of NBC?

DEGGANS: Well, there's one big question. Is he going to get Brian Williams' other title, which is managing editor? That provides a lot of control of the broadcast. But there was some criticism in the wake of the scandal that maybe the anchor had too much power over the show. Holt will make history. He'll be the first black man to be solo anchor of a network newscast. And so we'll get a chance to see what that newscast looks like when he gets to put his stamp on it.

INSKEEP: Eric, thanks.

DEGGANS: Thank you.

INSKEEP: That's NPR's Eric Deggans. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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