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Jon Stewart To Leave 'Daily Show,' NBC Suspends Brian Williams


In the media world, two big stars are leaving their high-profile posts - one by choice, one by necessity. Jon Stewart announced last night that he would be stepping down from "The Daily Show." He did not say what might be next. Stewart essentially invented a new form of satire in political criticism. And there is news that NBC has suspended its lead anchor for six months without pay. The punishment follows the admission by Brian Williams that he exaggerated the danger he faced as a reporter during the invasion of Iraq. NPR media correspondent David Folkenflik has been following both these stories and joins us on the line from our studios in New York. David, good morning to you.

DAVID FOLKENFLIK, BYLINE: Good morning, David.

GREENE: So let's start with Brian Williams first. Why have network executives suspended him, even really before any firm conclusions have been drawn about the scope of his transgressions (unintelligible)?

FOLKENFLIK: Well, look, I mean, first off, his credibility has been damaged both inside and outside of NBC news by puffing up, it would seem, the peril he faced in Iraq in 2003 while in a helicopter at the outset of the U.S.-led invasion there. At the same time, NBC has a corporate, public image issue to deal with. It's trying to figure out whether or not somebody can present the news whose credibility has been damaged on a personal tale. This feels like an interim step. This feels like something that allows them - buys them time to figure something out. It's almost as though it's an HR move or a personnel move rather than a journalistic move because as you say, we don't know what the findings will be, the conclusions will be, of that internal review. And to date, NBC hasn't promised to share it with us.

GREENE: OK, so NBC gives itself sort of a six-month window with this suspension. But what does the road look like right now for Brian Williams and for the network, for that matter?

FOLKENFLIK: Well, I think in quick order, you know, nothing else can come out of consequence or that in any way for further damages Williams' credibility about his seeming inflation or self-puffery. Secondly, you know, NBC is also going to keep a close eye on the ratings under the substitute anchor, Lester Holt, who's been around NBC for a long time. If they dive, I think NBC's going to feel more pressure to bring Brian Williams back. Let's not forget he was the most-watched television news anchor in the country.

GREENE: It's amazing to think about on a morning when we have sort of these two developments. We have many people saddened by the idea of not being able to trust someone who sits behind that news anchor desk. It's such a sacred place. But we're in this time when many Americans actually get their news right from someone like Jon Stewart, who's essentially a comedian, a satirist behind that desk.

FOLKENFLIK: Well, you get Jon Stewart, who's both a comedian and also a guy who frames the news, puts it in context and at times unpacks it. You know, he talked about the Brian Williams story, and let's not forget that Brian Williams was a frequent guest on "The Daily Show" and other popular culture shows - in fact, got in some trouble on the Letterman show on CBS from 2013. But Stewart talked about this a story and framed it in a very interesting way. And we have some tape to evoke what happened.


UNIDENTIFIED NEWSCASTER #1: What does this mean for the industry?


UNIDENTIFIED NEWSCASTER #3: : How bad is the damage to his credibility?

JON STEWART: The media is on it. Now, this may seem like overkill. But for me, no, it's not overkill because I am happy. Finally, someone is being held to account for misleading America about the Iraq war.


FOLKENFLIK: And I think right there, if you listen to that clip, Stewart's doing something very sharp. He's both acknowledging the seriousness - if you watch the full episode - of what Brian Williams did to Williams' credibility and damaging by extension NBC news. But also, he's putting in contrast. And he's saying, look, this isn't on the scope of the failure to report thoroughly on claims of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, which proved not to be the case. He's saying this is a minor transgression compared to other media sins that don't always get the same coverage or mea culpas.

GREENE: All right. NPR's media correspondent David Folkenflik joining us from New York. David, thanks a lot.

FOLKENFLIK: You bet. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

David Folkenflik was described by Geraldo Rivera of Fox News as "a really weak-kneed, backstabbing, sweaty-palmed reporter." Others have been kinder. The Columbia Journalism Review, for example, once gave him a "laurel" for reporting that immediately led the U.S. military to institute safety measures for journalists in Baghdad.
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