Here are few ways this could all theoretically shake out:
Brian Williams never returns to the NBC anchor desk if…
NBC’s investigation finds more transgressions
“If it’s just one time, he’ll get by,” O’Reilly said. “But if it turns out there’s a pattern of this, it’s going to be hard for him to come back.”
NBC ratings hold steady and/or public perception remains against Williams
If Las Vegas was putting odds on Williams’ return, he’d be an underdog. The narrative that emerged after the suspension was that a return wasn’t impossible, but it was definitely not likely.
“Brian Williams probably isn’t coming back,” wrote Politico‘s Dylan Byers. “Consider the next six months an audition for Lester Holt, the weekend anchor who will now substitute for Williams in his ‘absence.'”
If Holt, or any of the other anchors who have been floated as possibilities, can take hold and keep NBC’s ratings competitive, Williams could be done at NBC. The network did not respond to request for comment on this story.
Brian Williams could return to the NBC anchor desk if…
Public perception of Williams turns positive
Credibility with the public is an essential part of being a network anchor. Williams, who NBC had once touted with an ad called “Battle Scars,” doesn’t have as much credibility as he used to.
The scandal and the ensuing mess of apologies and a self-imposed suspension, which preceded NBC’s move, took its toll. His trustworthiness dropped, and the crowd calling for his resignation grew.
There is now some expectation that Williams will embark on an “apology tour,” a tactic in which a person makes the talk-show rounds in an attempt to own up to mistakes and win back the public’s affection.
Alternatively, Williams could lay low. Lara Logan stands as a comparable and recent instance to Williams. CBS asked Logan to take a leave of absence in November 2013 after a 60 Minutes report on Benghazi turned out to be deeply flawed. She kept a low profile, with few, if any, public appearances. She resurfaced on the show about seven months later.
A representative for Williams declined to respond to requests for comment on his plans.
NBC News ratings plummet and Williams avoids further controversy
NBC’s news operation is not in great shape. Ann Curry left amid controversy following her exit from Today, and David Gregory experienced a similarly rocky exit from Meet the Press.
With Williams’ suspension, NBC will be operating without its most recognizable journalist. Lester Holt, who hand been the network’s weekend anchor, is taking over. With more than 10 years at NBC and some prior experience anchoring Nightly News as a fill-in for Williams, Holt has the resume to fill the roll. The question will be whether he can maintain NBC’s narrow lead in the ratings.
Nightly News, NBC’s weeknight program, is still the top network news show, but ABC is not far behind. In December 2014, ABC’s World News Tonight briefly took the lead in the all-important demographic of viewers aged 25 to 54. NBC regained that audience and continues to lead in total viewers, but there is little room for a downturn.
If Holt or any other anchor flounders — particularly in the ratings — NBC could have little choice but to bring back Williams.