Brian Williams on Juan Williams, Rick Sanchez: ‘Media Organizations are Exerting Their Own Right to Employ or Not Employ These Folks’

By Alissa Krinsky 

NBC’s Brian Williams is in the Windy City today, anchoring Friday’s Nightly News from along the Chicago River on a balmy October night.  Williams, who serves on the Board of Directors of the Congressional Medal of Honor Foundation, came to town to host a Pritzker Military Library fundraiser honoring Medal of Honor recipient and NBC/MSNBC military analyst Col. Jack Jacobs.

TVNewser caught up with Williams as he departed Chicago’s NBC Tower on his way to the event.

TVNewser: The NBC Nightly News seems to devote special attention to those who serve in the military and to military veterans, and you are personally involved in honoring those who’ve served. Did this start with Tom Brokaw and “The Greatest Generation” – are you carrying the torch, so to say, or is this a particular interest of yours?

Brian Williams:  No, I think this is an interest of mine. I’m the son of a World War Two captain. I didn’t serve myself – my own cause is that, you gotta remember, every time I go to Iraq and Afghanistan, the reason I come home alive and in one piece, is that when we get there we get handed over to the U.S. Armed Forces.  And they keep us safe…

I cherish the time I’ve been with them overseas…People say this, but I mean it, it’s a privilege to be around them. To eat what they eat. For short bursts, to live how they live – though unarmed among them. They’re the reason I’m alive today.

TVNewser:  It’s been an interesting month for the TV business, with Rick Sanchez let go by CNN, and now FNC’s Juan Williams fired by NPR.  What do you think of all this, and what do you think of the media coverage of these controversial developments?

Brian Williams: We’ve [covered] Juan the past two nights. The other two networks led with Juan Williams last night. I didn’t think it was quite at that level. But this is ‘eye of the beholder’ stuff. This is where, as someone said on our air last night, the First Amendment gives you the right to say what you want. It doesn’t give you the right to be employed.

So, these media organizations are exerting their own right to employ or not employ these folks. But I think there has been a little bit of a thread of media people, in the public eye, saying things and paying a price for it.

TVNewser: With NBC Universal CEO Jeff Zucker leaving the network, what are your thoughts about the news division at this critical juncture?

Brian Williams: End of an era, beginning of a new one. Jeff obviously is a product of the news division, and we never forget that. So, as one door closes, another one opens. And we’re all getting ready for new owners, and a big transition.

TVNewser: The NBC Nightly News has led the network evening news ratings pack for fourteen seasons straight. How do you feel about the competition at this stage of the game?

Brian Williams: I’ve always said that if you watch any one of the so-called ‘Big Three’ newscasts, you’re going to get a good newscast, you’re going to get a good view of the day. Diane and Katie and I are friends. I’m thrilled that we just continued our streak, we celebrate another season as number one. I hope to always be in that position.

Don’t know what we’d change to increase the ratings in a fight – I’ve always said that too. We do what we do, pretty much every night, but I’m incredibly flattered that we’re the choice of most people. We certainly have the best team,  and I’d like to think we make the best effort every night, though I always hear footsteps – I’m a competitive individual.

TVNewser: Last question. Twitter: you have a page [with nearly 7,000 followers] but you haven’t tweeted yet! When might we hear from you?

Brian Williams: I just have an account. Just taking it all in. Taking my time. Enjoy the traffic, enjoy the speculation. It’s fun.

Brian Williams and NBC Nightly News Senior Producer Subrata De in Chicago

(Photos: Alissa Krinsky)