Nothing much, it seems.
Williams' six-month suspension without pay, which the network announced in February, is almost at an end. And apparently NBC thinks that was enough, and that the veteran reporter should have "the chance to earn back everyone's trust."
Williams will return to air later this summer, in a reduced capacity, network officials announced Thursday. NBC News chairman Andy Lack said in a statement that due to Williams' "excellent work" in the past, he deserved a second chance.
That second chance will involve acting as an "anchor of breaking news and special reports" on NBC's cable network, MSNBC, which has recently been struggling for ratings.
Lester Holt — who has been in the anchor seat since Williams' suspension — will take on the job permanently, becoming the first African-American to anchor a major network nightly newscast solo. He got the news while on his first vacation since taking over the position.
— Lester Holt (@LesterHoltNBC) June 18, 2015
Williams will also "serve as a breaking news anchor for NBC News live special reports when Holt is not available" the network said.
Network officials said the decision was the result of a lot of tough deliberation during the months of Williams' suspension.
"As you would imagine this was a difficult decision," NBCUniversal CEO Steve Burke told CNN. "Brian Williams has been with NBC News for a very long time and he has covered countless news events with honor and skill. As I said in February, we believe in second chances, and I am hopeful that this new beginning will be good for Brian and the organization."
Burke insisted the move was a positive, and that "We are moving forward."
The reduction in position will also mean a reduction in pay, and an "apology tour" starting with an interview on the Today show on Friday, the New York Times reported. The source who spoke to the Times couldn't specify the "significant" pay cut for Williams, but under his previous contract, Williams was reported to be making $10 million a year over 5 years.
Too Big To Fire?
Reaction to the news hasn't been overly enthusiastic.
"Instead of making a real decision, it essentially split the difference," wrote USA Today media columnist Rem Rieder. "It said Williams' fabrications about his exploits, some of them on air, disqualified him from continuing to serve as anchor of NBC Nightly News. But as far as anchoring breaking news and special reports on NBC's sister network MSNBC? No problem."
Jack Shafer at Politico called NBC's decision an "expedient, cynical move" speculating that the prospect of legal action to void that $50 million contract proved too daunting for the network.
"In retaining Williams, NBC News has endorsed the concept of the 'too big to fire' journalist," wrote Shafer, "a position most recently achieved by CNN host—and plagiarist—Fareed Zakaria. The Williams and Zakaria transgressions would have gotten them bounced had they occurred early in their careers, before they were too expensive to fire."
Meanwhile, commentators on social media, which had a field day with #BrianWilliamsMisremembers memes when the story of his untruths broke, is having no problem at all remembering the scandal, and haven't let up on skewering the anchor, right up through today's announcement.
— Ryan Carson (@rcar93) April 30, 2015
— #MakeDCListen™ (@RickCanton) June 18, 2015