Collateral damage: NBC 5 staffers under scrutiny

NBC Tower Chicago

NBC Tower Chicago

Employees of NBC-owned WMAQ-Channel 5 have been ordered to review the network’s 83-page manual on news guidelines in the wake of the Brian Williams scandal at NBC News.

NBC 5 news staffers were told they have until Friday to acknowledge in writing that they have read NBCUniversal News Group Policies and Guidelines, a massive tome that covers everything from accuracy and fairness in reporting to ownership of securities and insider trading. “It is important that our staff and daily hires be up to date on NBC News Policies and Guidelines,” NBC 5 news director Debra Juarez told employees Tuesday.

Brian Williams

Brian Williams

The latest edition was drafted last December — just two months before Williams was slapped with a six-month suspension as top anchor at NBC News for exaggerating his role in a helicopter incident in Iraq.

Defining accuracy as “ensuring all of the facts are correct and presenting them in their proper context,” the guidelines state: “Accuracy and fairness are fundamental principles of journalism. As we routinely rely on information and pictures coming from other traditional and non-traditional sources, we must verify their accuracy and authenticity and ensure fairness, because we are responsible for everything we air or publish.”

In suspending Williams without pay, NBC News president Deborah Turness wrote: “Brian misrepresented events which occurred while he was covering the Iraq War in 2003. It then became clear that on other occasions Brian had done the same while telling that story in other venues. This was wrong and completely inappropriate for someone in Brian’s position.

“In addition, we have concerns about comments that occurred outside NBC News while Brian was talking about his experiences in the field. As Managing Editor and Anchor of Nightly News, Brian has a responsibility to be truthful and to uphold the high standards of the news division at all times.”

Lester Holt

Lester Holt

While Williams and his bosses contemplate the beleaguered anchorman’s future, Lester Holt will continue to front “NBC Nightly News” for now. Holt’s ascension from weekend anchor could become permanent if Williams does not return, as many have speculated.

Chicago viewers may recall Holt from his 14-year run as news anchor at CBS-owned WBBM-Channel 2. His hiring there in 1986 was part of a settlement with Operation PUSH that ended a 10-month black viewer boycott triggered by the demotion of Harry Porterfield, then the station’s only black anchor. Holt left CBS 2 to join MSNBC in 2000.

If Holt becomes Williams’ permanent replacement, he would be the first African American solo anchor of a network evening newscast, Stephen Battaglio of the Los Angeles Times reported. Max Robinson was the Chicago-based part of the anchor trio on “ABC World News Tonight” from 1978 to 1983, and Bernard Shaw, a Chicago native, was principal anchor for years on cable network CNN.

Holt’s son, Stefan Holt, co-anchors NBC 5’s morning news with Zoraida Sambolin.