After an Endless Series of Catastrophes, a Major Shake-Up at the Top of NBC News

There's word NBCUniversal has had enough of watching its storied news division be made a laughingstock. Some people may soon be out. And someone from NBC News's glory days may be back in.
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There's word NBCUniversal has had enough of watching its storied news division be made a laughingstock. Some people may soon be out. And someone from NBC News's glory days may be back in.
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Somehow we all must've missed the recent statement from NBCUniversal expressing "complete faith" in NBCUni Newsgroup President Pat Fili-Krushel because it's looking more and more like her head is going to roll. The irony would be delicious if what got us to this point weren't so unfortunate.

According to reports by Variety and CNN's TV news savant Brian Stelter, NBCUniversal may be looking to remove Fili-Krushel from her position as head of NBC News, MSNBC and CNBC and may even oust NBC News President Deborah Turness. The decision is unfortunately a no-brainer at this point given the number of internal and public relations catastrophes that have plagued NBCUni's News outlets over the past couple of years, the worst of which is the recent suspension of Brian Williams for exaggerating his experiences as a reporter and main anchor at NBC News. Williams may have brought it on himself, but if, as some reported, NBC knew for years about his tendency toward ego-driven fabulism, it's understandable that part of the blame could come down on the people at the very top. Also, fair or not, a Williams-less Nightly News has meant that NBC News's once-mighty flagship show is now fighting for its ratings life. That's a part of the Fili-Krushel-Turness record and it can't be avoided.

But while the Williams debacle is still very much in everybody's recent memory, there's so much more that's brought shame to the NBCUni Newsgroup and left a lot of us wondering what the hell's going on over there. In August of last year, Turness botched in spectacular fashion the dismissal of David Gregory from both Meet the Press and NBC in general. Gregory's tenure at MTP had been a disastrous one, marked by a startling downhill slide in the ratings, but as a faithful employee for 20 years he deserved better than the humiliation of being left to twist in the wind while the press ate him alive and the bosses wouldn't return his phone calls. That one's on Turness. Also on her was the bizarre melodrama that unfolded at the Today show last November, when in the span of a day Turness had to clarify to the media who was and wasn't fired when the rumor began spreading that Today had dumped Natalie Morales and Willie Geist. The reality was that Turness had only fired newly minted “Senior Vice President and General Manager of the Today brand” Jamie Horowitz after ten weeks on the job. A guy she'd moved mountains to land and she canned him before he really had a chance to do much of anything.

Meanwhile, over at MSNBC you have -- well, MSNBC. February saw the network drop to its lowest numbers in a decade, as MSNBC chief Phil Griffin continues to try to pretend he hasn't spent the past several months in panic mode from the disastrous game of musical chairs he's been playing with hosts old and new. We're now at a point in which Griffin is claiming that MS will soon begin to "move away from left-wing TV," which will be an interesting thing to have to explain to Rachel Maddow, Lawrence O'Donnell, Chris Hayes and Al Sharpton. I can tell you from experience that desperation breeds schizophrenia and schizophrenic television does not work.

So this is the position that one of the most esteemed news organizations in the country is in right now. It should come as no surprise to anyone that NBCUni CEO Steve Burke has decided he's had enough.

Now comes the fun part. The Variety and Stelter reports claim that Burke is in the process of luring back Andy Lack to lead the organization out of the darkness. Lack was president of NBC News between 1993 and 2001 -- he was in charge during a good portion of my time with the network -- and he's reportedly being recruited for a "senior role within NBC News." Both Stelter and Variety say that this senior role will be Fili-Krushel's job as head of the entire newsgroup. Lack is a respected figure at NBC because he took over the news division following a previous embarrassing incident: a grossly misleading 1992 segment on Dateline that involved the show placing an incendiary device on a truck's gas tank to facilitate an on-camera explosion when it was hit by another vehicle. That story, by the way, got the network sued, a number of people canned and the reporter of the piece and a senior executive quietly shuffled away to Miami.

Lack came in after the Dateline disaster and not only righted the ship, he made NBC's news division an absolute powerhouse. The reason many of us ex-NBC people now hang our heads in shame over what's been done to the institution we believed in so strongly is that we remember Andy Lack's tenure. It's a different culture these days so who knows whether he can do with the newsgroup what he did years ago, but if anybody can do it, I'd like to believe it's him.

As for Fili-Krushel, reports are she'll remain at the network in a different capacity with the same going for Turness if she gets bounced from her current job. There's no reason to doubt that -- other than the fact that this is still NBC we're talking about. For all we know, those reassurances may mean absolutely nothing. Just ask Ann Curry how that "special correspondent" gig worked out.