Brian Williams’s Inaugural Show: Playing It Safe with Guests, Riff on Hillary's Press Plane

Following a spectacular downfall from NBC Nightly News anchor to disgraced and suspended serial liar to MSNBC breaking news anchor, Brian Williams was handed the keys on Tuesday night to a show all his own on MSNBC for the first time since that fateful February 2015 evening when he admitted to being less than accurate about a story from the Iraq War.

Dubbed The 11th Hour but ironically only 30 minutes long, Williams’s inaugural show promised to be a “fast-paced” recap of the day’s news in the 2016 election and it stuck to script as Williams brought on a slew of familiar NBC/MSNBC personalities to provide their own analysis and reporting with a few flashes of the Williams that most viewers either love or loathe.

The show started with its own set of credits before Williams bid viewers good evening and provided a synopsis of the program to run “until Election Day when we will cancel ourselves”

20 days until the first presidential debate. 63 days or 62, depending on how you count until the election and while it may not be the 11 o’clock hour where you are watching, we are rapidly nearing the 11th hour for this presidential campaign, so we’ll be here at this hour from now until Election Day when we will cancel ourselves.

The remainder of the first half featured panels with NBC News campaign correspondents Kasie Hunt and Hallie Jackson then solo interviews of Washington Post’s Robert Costa and Republican Governor John Kasich (Ohio) to have the distinction of being Williams’s first politician/non-journalist interview.

Three frequent panelists for the convention and primary nights that Williams and Rachel Maddow would anchor next appeared together as MSNBC political analysts Eugene Robinson, Steve Schmidt, and Nicolle Wallace provided brief summaries of the time since both political conventions plus a preview of the Matt Lauer-led national security town hall set for Wednesday night featuring Clinton and Trump.

One of the more humorous moments for this writer occurred when Williams, whose lies were often chalked up to being made in the “fog of war,” dropped some self-awareness when he decided to utter this about “fake hurricanes” (in a nod to Hermine not ravaging the East Coast) and “the fog of Labor Day”:

[H]eading into this Commander-in-Chief forum here in New York tomorrow night, this strikes me as a kind of sneaky backdoor debate. This is more than an early dress rehearsal, I think people who have been in the fog of Labor Day, perhaps running from fake hurricanes, this may come up fast on people, and they’ll watch tomorrow night and it’s going to have the feel while it's one before the other, it's Hillary before Donald Trump, this could be an event.

Wrapping up the show before going to a tape of Hardball, Williams handed down a short commentary on how there’s been “first sure sign of the fall campaign, proof that even this campaign will at least have something in common with years past” that happened this week in the form of Hillary Clinton unveiling her new campaign plane featuring space for selected press outlets to ride along with her.

“Hearing that a president or a candidate is coming back during the flight has nothing to do with their standing in the polls and everything to do with access...Team Clinton is already learning that controlling when the candidate comes back to chat and for how long can be an effective way to make her seem acceptable, even while she avoids a formal press conference for nine months or so far,” Williams keenly observed in making the distinction between formal pressers and small plane gaggles.

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After taking a shot at “some websites [who] will have you believe” Clinton’s coughing fits are “fatal,” Williams joked about how upsetting it is that “some traditions like snack tray surfing down the main aisle have sadly gone the way of the prop jet, another tradition made an appearance on the Clinton plane today” with an orange having a question to the candidate being rolled down the aisle.

The question was about whether Clinton would have dinner with Trump or Russian President Vladimir Putin and once Williams provided the answer (Putin), he gave no elaborate sign-off for The 11th Hour but simply concluded: “That is our inaugural edition of our pop-up broadcast, we'll pop back up here tomorrow night at this very same time.”

While a number of people would probably have never predicted Williams would have a show of his own again or firmly believed that he shouldn’t be allowed on the air period for his problem with the truth, we’re stuck with Williams in this setting. No matter your feelings, you can trust this space for providing NewsBusters readers with noteworthy moments.

Some relevant portions of the transcript from MSNBC’s The 11th Hour with Brian Williams on September 6 can be found below.

MSNBC’s The 11th Hour with Brian Williams
September 6, 2016
11:00 p.m. Eastern

BRIAN WILLIAMS: And good evening and welcome from our headquarters here in New York. Where have we heard that music before? 20 days until the first presidential debate. 63 days or 62, depending on how you count until the election and while it may not be the 11 o’clock hour where you are watching, we are rapidly nearing the 11th hour for this presidential campaign, so we’ll be here at this hour from now until Election Day when we will cancel ourselves.

(....)

WILLIAMS: Will decency emerge from this campaign still alive and in style? 

REPUBLICAN GOVERNOR JOHN KASICH (Ohio): You know, look, as I always tell my friends in both the Jewish and Christian community, there's two things that we have to recapture, what did Moses bring down and what did Jesus said. Love God, okay? Love your neighbor as you love yourself. We need to connect with one another again and slow our lives down to live a life bigger than ourselves. Do I think that’s appealing? The movie Sully is coming out. I think it’s going to be a big hit. People are looking for heroes. They’re looking for somebody that puts somebody else first. The beauty of Sully is he wouldn't get off that plane that landed in the Hudson River til he got off that plane. We yearn for that. It's in us, it's written in our hearts, so yes, I do think we can unify, but these are unsettling, fast-moving times where there have been a lot of people that find themselves in the ditch, and we have to help them get out. 

(....)

WILLIAMS: Eugene, heading into this Commander-in-Chief forum here in New York tomorrow night, this strikes me as a kind of sneaky backdoor debate. This is more than an early dress rehearsal, I think people who have been in the fog of Labor Day, perhaps running from fake hurricanes, this may come up fast on people, and they’ll watch tomorrow night and it’s going to have the feel while it's one before the other, it's Hillary before Donald Trump, this could be an event.

EUGENE ROBINSON: No, they’ll turn it on it’ll be like — there they are and you know I think what each are trying to do is make the evening about the other, right? Because when it's a referendum on Donald Trump, Hillary Clinton does very, very well and when it's a referendum on Donald Trump — Hillary Clinton, Donald Trump does very well. So, each will be trying to disqualify the other, I think as commander-in-chief. In terms of knowledge about national security and experience, it won’t be much a contest and it will be interesting to see if Trump is able to bluff his way through that, or tries to bluff his way through that or just kinda falls back on Make America Great. 

(....)

WILLIAMS: Our last thing here before we go tonight, has to do with the first sure sign of the fall campaign, proof that even this campaign will at least have something in common with years past, Hillary Clinton now has a campaign plane. It's a specially-outfitted Boeing 737 and it means the media now right along. Per usual, they are in the back of the plane and prepare to hear the phrase, come back, as we hear she's going to come back to the plane to talk to the press while airborne. Hearing that a president or a candidate is coming back during the flight has nothing to do with their standing in the polls and everything to do with access to them. While the press is not allowed on Trump's private plane, except for special exceptions, Team Clinton is already learning that controlling when the candidate comes back to chat and for how long can be an effective way to make her seem acceptable, even while she avoids a formal press conference for nine months or so far. Just today, Hillary Clinton talked about debate prep and Trump’s tax returns and her recurring cough which some websites will have you believe is fatal and while some traditions like snack tray surfing down the main aisle have sadly gone the way of the prop jet, another tradition made an appearance on the Clinton plane today, that is rolling an orange down the aisle, an orange that bears a question or a message from the press corps and for the candidate in the trump of the plane. Today’s question on the orange that survived the roll was dinner with Trump or Putin? An aide to Clinton circled Putin and rolled the orange back into the waiting arms of the press corps, and on a presidential campaign, that defines in-flight entertainment. That is our inaugural edition of our pop-up broadcast, we'll pop back up here tomorrow night at this very same time.


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