NBC News had a tough 2014, and so far 2015 has not gotten off on the right foot.
Popular Nightly News anchor Brian Williams, who has presided over the newscast’s five-year winning streak among total viewers, admitted Wednesday that he inaccurately recalled a story from the Iraq war in 2003, in which he claimed he was on a helicopter shot at by ground fire. While the jury remains out on any type of ratings impact for Nightly News – ABC’s World News Tonight has slowly gained ground, particularly among the adults 25-54 news demo – it is the latest in a string of bad press for NBC News.
In early January the network had to walk back its reporting during coverage of the Paris terrorist attacks that began with the Charlie Hebdo shooting.
The challenges facing NBC News under the direction of ITV veteran Deborah Turness were documented in B&C’s Jan. 5 preview issue. Among those being Today’s two-year ratings slump – which included a pair of messy breakups: the short-lived GM Jamie Horowitz and Ann Curry, the latter officially departed after 25 years last month. Todayhired Noah Oppenheim in January to revive the program, which has been stuck in second place behind ABC’s Good Morning America. Venerable Meet the Press is also facing an uphill climb – following years of being the Sunday morning leader – to topple CBS’ Face the Nation with new host Chuck Todd.
MSNBC, by president Phil Griffin’s own admission, had a “difficult year” which saw the cable news network fall behind CNN to third in the ratings; its coverage of President Obama’s 2015 State of the Union also saw double-digit drops from last year.
There is no word of any possible discipline for Williams – who recently signed a new multi-year contract – but his “misremembering” has drawn numerous criticism, particularly from service men and women. Much of Williams’ popularity stems from his use of social media – and frequent appearances on Jimmy Fallon’s late night programs – but now the longtime anchor is seeing the other end of the digital sword. The story on Wednesday prompted a pair of Twitter hashtags: #BrianWilliamsMemories and #BrianWilliamsMisremembers and was thoroughly mocked in media circles.
Williams’ recanting of a story that he had perpetuated for more than a decade has now put the news division’s lone bright spot under an unflattering light.