Overthinking the Timing of Brian Williams’ Family Stroll

By Mark Joyella 

Now, it’s starting to get interesting.

In TV news, we’re trained to detect subtle shifts in the wind–an indication a story has shifted, a hint a person’s popularity has been bolstered or eroded, the scent of a smoldering fire that’s about to burst.

So it’s worth noting that this week marks the public return of Brian Williams. Whether by coincidence or design, Williams emerged, walking with his wife, daughter and an adorable dog, smiling and amiably chatting with his daughter’s neighbor on a New York sidewalk. If he had any interest in dodging the paparazzi, it didn’t show in the photos and video posted by TMZ and the Daily Mail. Instead, we got a glimpse of the Williams we used to know so well–the nice guy with the winning smile. Not the scandal-tarred serial exaggerator, but just BriWi.

Brian Williams with Tom Brokaw at the unveiling of the Brokaw News Center in Los Angeles in April, 2014

Brian Williams with Tom Brokaw at the unveiling of the Brokaw News Center in Los Angeles. April, 2014

The photos hit Twitter at the same time as a YouTube video of Tom Brokaw, speaking Monday night in Chicago, talked at some length about Williams. Brokaw was cautious in his comments, described his relationship with Williams as “cordial,” and said for the sake of NBC News—and Williams–people should reserve judgment and let the process play out.

Aside from calling the situation “really, really serious,” Brokaw didn’t criticize Williams–taking his sharpest shot instead at Vanity Fair‘s Bryan Burrough, who wrote about the “civil war” at NBC News. Brokaw called the story “completely unsourced,” and said Burroughs never tried to contact Brokaw to confirm any of the quotes attributed to Brokaw. “It was outrageous,” he said.

And then, there are the numbers. Always and forever in TV news, it comes back to the numbers. And fairly or unfairly for Lester Holt, “NBC Nightly News” has now lost back-to-back weeks to ABC’s “World News Tonight,” among total viewers and in the key demo. The latest win represents ABC’s biggest margin over “Nightly” in more than six and a half years.

For whatever reason, this is the week Brian Williams emerged, smiling. Does it mean anything? Of course not. And yet, maybe.