Brian Williams still weeks away from reappearing at MSNBC

Staff Writer
Columbus Monthly

NEW YORK (AP) — Next week marks the end of Brian Williams' six-month suspension from NBC News for exaggerating his role in news stories, but he isn't expected back on the air in his new job at MSNBC for at least another month.

Williams was suspended on Feb. 10 after his story about flying in a helicopter hit by enemy fire in Iraq in 2003 was shown to be false, triggering an investigation into other incidents of self-aggrandizement in talking about his reporting. He lost his job as NBC's "Nightly News" anchor and was named a breaking news anchor at the cable news outlet.

MSNBC hasn't announced a start date for Williams. The tentative target for his return is for the network's coverage of Pope Francis' visit to the United States, scheduled for Sept. 22-27, according to an executive there who spoke on condition of anonymity because plans aren't fully set.

Williams won't have a regular time slot at MSNBC, but will work during daytime hours on busy news days.

MSNBC — which along with CNN runs a distant second to Fox News Channel in prime-time viewership — is in the midst of a makeover driven by poor ratings, jettisoning much of its opinionated daytime programming. New NBC News chief Andrew Lack is seeking to turn MSNBC into a breaking news outlet during the day, with assistance from NBC News personalities, and restrict its liberal viewpoint to the evening.

Other than announcing Williams' role and the start of a new late afternoon show hosted by "Meet the Press" moderator Chuck Todd, many of the details about MSNBC's plans remain under wraps.

Besides giving MSNBC more time to retool, the pope's visit offers a relatively predictable news event for Williams to start back with.

Williams' representative, Robert Barnett, declined comment on Monday.

It also enables him to at least initially avoid stories that called to mind his transgressions. For example, Williams traveled to New Orleans several times to cover Hurricane Katrina and its aftermath, and took pride in that work. However, some of his recounting of reporting in New Orleans was questioned in NBC's internal investigation.

NBC also hasn't detailed its plans for marking the upcoming 10th anniversary of Katrina making landfall in New Orleans; Williams is not expected to have a hand in it.

Williams has remained out of NBC's offices, except for a day in June when he spoke to colleagues in New York and Washington and apologized for his actions. He also gave an interview to Matt Lauer on the "Today" show, where he said his misstatements had been driven by ego: "I had to be sharper, funnier, quicker than anybody else, put myself closer to the action."

NBC News never released the results of its investigation into Williams' reporting.