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Brian Williams is back.
Before Pope Francis even set foot in the U.S., the demoted MSNBC anchor returned to the airwaves more than six months after he was suspended and ultimately lost his job as NBC Nightly News anchor because it was discovered that he repeatedly embellished his accounts of field reports.
Wearing a navy blue suit jacket, light blue shirt and blue striped tie, Williams appeared rested as he began anchoring MSNBC’s coverage of Pope Francis’ visit to the U.S. at 3 p.m. ET on Tuesday. Indeed, the pontiff had not yet arrived on U.S. soil when Williams returned to the air. But he repeatedly threw to a live shot of throngs of people waiting for the pope to arrive and be greeted by President Barack Obama and first lady Michelle Obama at a Washington, D.C.-area airport. Anchoring from what appeared to be a busy newsroom, Williams was joined in the studio by another new addition to the MSNBC team, Kate Snow — who will anchor the 3-5 p.m. block on MSNBC, it was announced last week, and anchor the Sunday edition of NBC’s Nightly News. Meet the Press anchor Chuck Todd, who’s hosting a 5 p.m. MSNBC show that begins next Monday, also joined Williams in the studio.
Williams also checked in with NBC correspondents, who reported on the massive security preparations underway for the pope’s visit, with Stephanie Gosk reporting from Manhattan, N.Y., highlighting how street closures and other measures planned to coincide with the New York leg of Pope Francis’ trip could inconvenience New Yorkers also dealing with additional traffic caused by the annual meeting of the General Assembly of the United Nations.
After Gosk’s report, Williams said, “It’s going to be the week that was,” of the next few days in New York.
After dealing with some technical difficulties in communicating with their on-the-ground correspondent, Williams talked with Snow about the Obama daughters, who joined their parents to greet the pope, commenting on what a memory this will be for them and how much they’ve grown.
NBC News chairman Andy Lack announced in June that Williams would remain with the company to anchor breaking news and special reports primarily at MSNBC. Williams won’t have a dedicated hour on MSNBC’s schedule but will just work on afternoon programs, depending on the news. Still, his arrival is one of several changes at MSNBC, which in July canceled three afternoon programs: The Cycle, Now With Alex Wagner and The Ed Show. MSNBC’s new daytime lineup is designed to focus on breaking news instead of the sort of opinion and analysis offered by primetime hosts like Rachel Maddow and Lawrence O’Donnell.
After Lack’s decision was announced, NBC’s Today show aired an interview of Williams conducted by Matt Lauer. During that sit-down, Williams apologized for saying “things that weren’t true,” but he continued to insist he didn’t knowingly lie.
“I told stories that were not true. I never intended to. It got mixed up. It got turned around in my mind,” Williams told Lauer. Still, the disgraced NBC News veteran took responsibility for what he said, telling the Today co-anchor, “I own this. I own up to this.”
Williams characterized his suspension as “torture.” But, he said, “Looking back, it has been absolutely necessary,” explaining that he had gone over everything he said over his more-than-20-year career to “try to figure out how it happened” that he said things that weren’t true. He vowed that he has changed.
“What has happened in the past has been identified and torn apart by me and has been fixed, has been dealt with,” said Williams. “Going forward, there are going to be different rules of the road. … I am different as a result, and I expect to be held to a different standard.”
Williams told Lauer he wasn’t happy about not being able to stay on the NBC Nightly News, which now is anchored by Lester Holt.
“Was it my first choice? No. Obviously I wanted to return to my old job,” said Williams. “I pushed back, at first. Enough time has passed. I accept the decision,” he added before praising his successor, Holt.
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