NEW YORK (TheStreet) -- Suspended NBC News anchor Brian Williams will need to make a public apology for alleged fabrications in his reporting before the Comcast (CMCSA) - Get Report-owned network would consider reinstating him, according to a person with knowledge of the situation. The public apology is one of several "things Brian has to do before we'd let him back on the air," according to this person.
Williams was suspended in February for six months for exaggerating his reporting during the Iraqi invasion and Hurricane Katrina's 2005 strike on New Orleans and the Gulf Coast. NBC News Chairman Andrew Lack is expected to make a decision by August, although if the network decides to jettison Williams a decision could be made as soon as the network's May 11 "upfront" presentation to advertisers, an annual gathering aimed at selling airtime for the upcoming fall and winter season.
"The best decision for NBC News would be to part ways with Brian Williams," said Bernard Gershon, a former ABC News radio vice-president and former general manager of ABCNews.com. "It helps restore credibility to a tarnished news organization and allows them to rebuild. For the moment, Williams is a punch line."
Williams' fate is the most recent example of NBC News' worsening plight. Ratings have fallen at The Today Show, which trails ABC's Good Morning America, and Meet The Press. Even before interim anchor Lester Holt took over for Williams in February, the evening news program was in a neck-and-neck race with ABC's World News Tonight and its 41-year old host David Muir.
NBC isn't yet looking for a new host for its nightly news program, according to two people with knowledge of the situation, and still considers Holt a potential replacement for Williams if the long-time anchor doesn't return.
"Lester Holt has led NBC Nightly News to great success over the past two months, and we continue to be pleased with his strong performance during this time," according to a NBC News statement in early April. "We're proud of the caliber of our work and remain committed to delivering the highest quality broadcast for our audience every night."
A decision to make the announcement at the upfront presentation is not currently being considered, the person said, but that could change. A spokesman for NBC news had no comment.
In early April, World News Tonight broke NBC's five-year ratings streak, luring 7.98 million viewers to 7.91 million for NBC Nightly News. ABC, a unit of Walt Disney (DIS) - Get Report, also outdrew NBC in viewers aged 25 to 54 that advertisers want. The NBC broadcast has averaged 214,000 more viewers over the last two months, according to Nielsen data provided by Horizon Media's senior vice president Brad Adgate. Holt's newscast has averaged 30,000 fewer viewers aged 25-54 during that period.
The betting among knowledgeable broadcast executives is that Williams is unlikely to come back, even if he were to make the required apology. The damage, they say, has been too great to his and the news organization's reputation for any statement to overcome.
"They would be better off looking to their bench or poaching talent from elsewhere," said former NBC entertainment chief Garth Ancier. "I can't think of a correspondent of anchor who has fudged the truth about his journalistic experience and returned to the sacred trust of an anchor chair. I interpreted the 6-month hiatus as a goodbye gesture in television time."
This article is commentary by an independent contributor. At the time of publication, the author held positions in CMCSA and DIS.