Williams won’t be MSNBC’s only anchor during the pontiff’s lengthy visit – but he will be the most closely watched for obvious reasons and his presence is sure to goose ratings for the cable news network’s coverage of Francis’s lengthy visit. Williams’ return to air happens on September 22, which coincides with Francis’ scheduled arrival in Washington, D.C. Williams will not be on the road with the pope; he will be anchoring from New York.
In June, NBCUniversal announced Williams would return to NBC in August, but would be assigned to MSNBC rather than return to the anchor chair at NBC Nightly News. Nightly News fill-in Lester Holt was named permanent anchor of Nightly.
Back then, NBC News/MSNBC chairman Andy Lack, who’d been brought back to the company in March, in the thick of the Williams investigation, said “Brian now has the chance to earn back everyone’s trust. His excellent work over twenty-two years at NBC News has earned him that opportunity.”
Williams’ return was, however, delayed, which led to speculation NBC wanted to keep him off the air until after the anniversary of Hurricane Katrina – that news event having been among those at which Williams was accused of exaggerating his experience while covering for NBC News. Instead, the visit to the U.S. of the pope will be the setting for Williams to redeem himself. Francis is stopping in Cuba before coming to the United States with stops planned in Washington, where he is expected to meet with President Obama and address Congress, before heading to Philadelphia and New York.
In early February, NBCU and Comcast brass put Williams on ice for six months without pay for having falsely claimed on Nightly News that he was in the line of fire in a helicopter in Iraq in March 2003 – a claim Williams also had made elsewhere, most notably on Late Show With David Letterman. NBCU at that time acknowledged it was looking into allegations Williams had greatly inflated his role in various news events.