Brian Williams returned to television after a six-month suspension Tuesday to cover Pope Francis’ visit to the U.S. for MSNBC, where he will helm the network’s breaking news coverage.
Perhaps it was fitting that the embattled anchor -- whose long television career seemed moribund after it came to light he exaggerated various reporting experiences, including coming under fire while in a military helicopter -- did not address the controversy upon his return, instead ceding the stage to the pope.
“Good day. I'm Brian Williams at MSNBC headquarters here in New York,” he began. “In a short time, Pope Francis will arrive in this country for the first time. The head of the global Catholic Church of over a billion members, Holy Father to nearly 70 million Catholics here in the United States.”
A source at the network said Williams has no plans to talk about his suspension or return. According to CNN media reporter Brian Stelter, employees had also been instructed not to acknowledge Williams' return on the air.
Williams did, however, reflect on the statements leading to his suspension during a June interview on the "Today" show.
“I said things that were wrong. I told stories that were wrong,” Williams said. “It wasn't from a place where I was trying to use my job and title to mislead. I got it wrong. I own this, and I own up [to] this.”
NBC News and MSNBC Chairman Andrew Lack said in a statement at the time that Williams’ long tenure at the network earned him some leeway.
“Brian now has the chance to earn back everyone's trust,” he said. “His excellent work over twenty-two years at NBC News has earned him that opportunity.”
Williams comes to MSNBC from parent company NBC, where he helmed “NBC Nightly News” during a time of change. Amid sinking ratings, MSNBC is undergoing a rebranding and an accompanying shift in focus from left-leaning commentary to hard news. NBC has moved a number of prominent staffers over to MSNBC, including Williams' former executive producer at "Nightly News," Pat Burkey.
In a note to staff, MSNBC President Phil Griffin characterized the changes as a “focus on live, breaking news in the daytime and smart, informed analysis and opinion in primetime.”