Return of Brian Williams Today Is Part of Revamp at MSNBC

© Brian Harkin for The New York Times Brian Williams will start on Tuesday as a breaking news anchor at MSNBC.
© Brian Harkin for The New York Times Brian Williams will start on Tuesday as a breaking news anchor at MSNBC.

Brian Williams was eating dinner in early June at the Bronxville, N.Y., house of his new boss, Andrew Lack, discussing his fate at NBC News. 

It had been nearly four months since Mr. Williams had been suspended from his position as anchor of “Nightly News,” and he had been reflecting on how he might make a return to the air.

Mr. Williams said that he hoped to focus on live, breaking news.

Mr. Lack responded that he had the perfect fit. Mr. Williams could resume his career at MSNBC, the ratings-challenged cable network that was in the midst of overhauling its daytime coverage.

“His passion fit exactly with one of our biggest needs,” Mr. Lack, chairman of NBC News and MSNBC, said in an interview on Monday. “Brian will be such an important contribution to MSNBC’s page-turn here.”

Now, after seven months of making news, Mr. Williams will start covering it once again. He is expected to return to the air on MSNBC about 3 p.m. on Tuesday in his new role as a breaking news anchor, starting with coverage of Pope Francis’ visit to the United States.

His re-emergence represents the opportunity for Mr. Williams to rehabilitate his image and restore the trust he once commanded as head of the country’s No. 1 evening news broadcast. At the same time, NBC News executives are hoping that he can help MSNBC reverse its fortunes by focusing on hard news during the daytime and by integrating with NBC News to create one news operation that delivers its coverage across broadcast, cable and digital outlets.

“The news is the star,” Mr. Lack said. “We are building a network that has as its core value delivering breaking news better than anyone else. It is not about the anchor who happens to be delivering the news.”

There is no guarantee that the transition will be smooth. As breaking news anchor, Mr. Williams has not been assigned to a specific time slot on the network, but rather is expected to lead coverage when big stories unfold, whether that’s about politics, the pope or natural disasters.

Some NBC News staff members welcomed Mr. Williams’s return, saying that it would add a dose of star power to the network. Others, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, questioned how Mr. Williams’s role would evolve after the pope departs, and whether the move to MSNBC was a way to ease him into a bigger role at the network.

Some also questioned whether checks and balances had been put in place to prevent Mr. Williams from repeating the mistakes that caused his problems in the first place; he was suspended in mid-February after acknowledging that he had embellished accounts of his reporting, a crisis that sent the news group into turmoil and led to Mr. Lack’s hiring in March.

Asked whether Mr. Williams could integrate smoothly into his new home in the aftermath of the controversy, Mr. Lack said he expected Mr. Williams to win back the trust of both his colleagues and his viewers. He said Mr. Williams would abide by the “normal checks and balances that exist for all of us.”

“This is a long game that is not measured in tomorrow’s coverage, or this week’s coverage or this month’s coverage,” Mr. Lack said. “He looks forward to finding himself in this role.”

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Source: The New York Times |  EMILY STEEL

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