The discussions are in the early stages, but Lack is expected to return in a top role, if not the top job, overseeing NBCUniversal’s news operations: NBC News, MSNBC and CNBC. Pat Fili-Krushel, who has headed NBCUniversal News Group as chairman since 2012, may move to a different position within NBCUniversal.
A rep for NBCUniversal declined comment.
A source close to the situation emphasized that Deborah Turness, NBC News president, is also staying with the company, though her role may change. Turness has been under fire for the division’s response to the controversy that erupted over Williams’ misleading statements on “NBC Nightly News” about his experiences will covering the Iraq war in 2003. The incident led to the anchor being suspended for six months without pay last month.
Lack was previously president of NBC News from 1993 to 2001. Most recently he spent six years at Bloomberg Media, before leaving in September to become chief executive officer of the Broadcasting Board of Governors, the federal agency that oversees international networks including Voice of America and Radio Free Europe.
The discussions with Lack were spurred during the past few weeks by NBCU management’s desire to bring in a seasoned journalist to help manage the crisis situation. Fili-Krushel is a highly regarded TV exec but her lack of journalism experience has been a source of criticism as NBC News’ operations have been scrutinized following the Williams’ scandal and other reporting issues that have surfaced.
In February, for example, NBC News chief global correspondent Bill Neely reported that suspects in France’s Charlie Hebdo killings were dead or in custody — information that was not accurate, but that was reiterated in a broadcast by Williams. The TV journalists had to retract the claims, and acknowledge the government-intelligence sources they had relied upon did not give sound facts.
Fili-Krushel has also had to contend with problems at MSNBC and CNBC. Both have been plagued by ratings declines in recent months. At MSNBC, executives have been reworking the network’s daytime schedule and focusing more on breaking news rather than the issues-based programming that has been at the core of its offering between noon and early evening. CNBC recently announced it would no longer do deals based on Nielsen ratings as of the fourth quarter of 2015, instead using data about viewers from a new provider in hopes of spurring more partnership with advertisers.
Turness has also been in the hot seat as the exec directly in charge of NBC News, which produces “Nightly News.” Turness joined NBC in 2013 from ITV News in the U.K. Some have said Turness’ handling of various touchy situations at NBC News as reflecting her lack of experience in U.S. newsroom cultures. But a source close to the situation stressed that despite the potential shakeup spurred by Lack’s return, Fili-Krushel and Turness will not be pushed out of the company.
Lack ran NBC News during a prosperous time for the division. In 2001 he was promoted to president and chief operating officer of NBC, but turf battles with then-NBC chairman Bob Wright made it a rocky run. He left in 2003 after he was recruited to become chairman-CEO of Sony Music Entertainment.
(Elizabeth Wagmeister and Brian Steinberg contributed to this report)
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