Now that Brian Williams has been suspended by NBC for six months—and I'd be really surprised if he gets his job back at the end of that—my younger readers might be wondering why this is a big deal. After all, isn't he just some guy who reads the news to your grandparents in between ads for Viagra and Lipitor? Well yes, but it wasn't always that way. Network news anchors used to be the absolute kings of the American media universe, with audiences that today are almost unimaginable. It still may be the most prestigious job in American journalism, in part because there are only three of them, but it's not what it once was. Brian Williams, for instance, was paid a measly $10 million a year, while Today show co-host Matt Lauer makes twice as much. And how many Americans could name all three network anchors? The days when everybody knew Dan Rather and Peter Jennings are gone; I'd bet that CBS's Scott Pelley and ABC's David Muir could walk down many streets without being recognized.
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