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What's the Deal with the Bad Blood Between Tom Brokaw and Brian Williams?

By Dustin Rowles | Industry | February 12, 2015 |

By Dustin Rowles | Industry | February 12, 2015 |

I don’t watch a lot of nightly network news telecast. In fact, I doubt that I’ve seen a single episode of any of the network news shows since the 2014 election (I recall only checking in once to see if the leaked Mitt Romney tape had been a big enough story outside of the Internet to make the nightly news), but I had a soft spot for Brian Williams for, perhaps, the very reasons that brought him down: He was a really great guest on late-night talk shows, wither it be Fallon, Letterman, or Jon Stewart (in fact, Williams apparently knew he was good on late-night television and reportedly lobbied to replace Jay Leno when Leno left The Tonight Show).

I don’t seem to recall any issues between Williams and Brokaw when Williams took over as anchor of NBC Nightly News,, other than the fact that Brokaw would have preferred David Bloom (who died in 2003) to be his successor. However, there were no suggestions that Williams had done to Brokaw what Leno had done to Johnny Carson: Gently shoved him out the door. Williams, did, however, spend the early part of his run as the anchor of NBC Nightly News in the shadow of Brokaw’s legacy.

Apparently, Williams didn’t care for living in Brokaw’s shadow, and with Brokaw a constant presence around the network, Williams did his worse to push Brokaw to the background. According to a NBC News source (via the Daily Beast) tensions between the two date back, at least, to 2012:

It dates back at least to Election Night 2012, says the NBC News veteran, when Williams made no secret of his wish to exclude Brokaw from the live coverage. “Brian did not want to be in the same studio as Tom. He thought Tom talked too much and was hard of hearing. He showed Tom tremendous disrespect and Tom knew this and knows this… When Tom wants to get something on Nightly, Brian fights that every step of the way.”

NPR’s David Folkenflick confirms the tension:

According to three longtime Brokaw colleagues, the relationship’s been cool and evolving to frosty. It’s still publicly cordial. You saw Brian Williams emcee an event for a cancer society that Tom Brokaw is affiliated with last year. They’re publicly cordial, as I say, but very different approaches. Tom Brokaw sees himself from coming from an era when the news involved greater public service, in his mind. And Brian Williams, let’s face it, loves the performative aspect of television, too. He loves being on “Saturday Night Live,” “30 Rock,” “Daily Show.”

In fact, according to that NPR report, Brokaw has been warning NBC brass about Williams for at least a year:

Brokaw’s told colleagues, going back at least a year, that he heard Williams giving increasingly grandiose versions of the downed Iraqi helicopter story that got him into trouble in recent days, and that Brokaw himself looked into the anecdote and that the facts simply didn’t match.

Though Brokaw would later deny it, according to the Post, Brokaw wanted Williams fired last week. Brokaw, however, claimed “I have neither suggested nor demanded Brian be fired. His future is up to Brian and the executives of NBC News.”

That’s not exactly a ringing endorsement for Williams. In fact, according to The New Yorker, Brokaw was instrumental in getting Williams suspended. Brokaw apparently had concerns “about the effects of Williams’s actions on the reputation of the rank and file in the news division,” and advised NBC’s chief executive, Steve Burke — who was waffling over what to do — to suspend Williams.

The irony, of course, is that if one person could salvage the news career of Brian Williams, it would be Tom Brokaw. However, considering their relationship — “Brian has always felt very threatened by Tom,” according to an NBC News colleague — that doesn’t seem particularly likely. The six-month suspension feels less like a suspension, and more about giving NBC some time to find a permanent replacement.

Dustin is the founder and co-owner of Pajiba. You may email him here or follow him on Twitter.

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