Brian Williams returned to the airwaves of MSNBC to anchor coverage of the visit of Pope Francis to the United States on Tuesday, his first day back at work following his suspension from NBC News and demotion for misleading viewers about his role in news stories.

Dressed in a suit and blue striped tie, Williams was all business and no initial mention was made of his absence. He opened the 3 p.m. ET hour on the news network, stationed in a Manhattan studio.

"In a short time Pope Francis will arrive in the country for the first time," he said, his voice slightly raspy. "He will first travel to Washington before moving to New York and Philadelphia."

He introduced NBC White House correspondent Chris Jansing, at the airport where the pope was due to arrive, for a report, followed by short interviews with Maria Shriver and Jose Diaz-Balart.

Network news divisions have been gearing up for pope coverage, with Lester Holt, George Stephanopoulos and Scott Pelley set to anchor special reports on Tuesday’s arrival on NBC, ABC and CBS.

But Williams’ return attracted the most notice. Except for an interview with Matt Lauer on "Today," he’d been off the air since his suspension from "Nightly News" in February. He was caught telling a false story about his coverage of the Iraq War, and lost his "Nightly News" job after an NBC investigation turned up other instances of exaggerating his role.

Although Williams won’t have a regular daily show on MSNBC, he’s expected to anchor during busy news periods a couple of times a week. The network has ditched its daytime opinion programming in favor of news coverage that emphasizes its ties to NBC News.

His return was timed to coincide with MSNBC’s revamp and to offer some control over his first appearance. Williams is to anchor coverage of breaking news, which, for the most part is unpredictable. But the pope’s visit has a strict schedule and media outlets have been planning for it for months.

NBC News Chairman Andrew Lack said last week that Williams is one of the best in his generation for covering live, breaking news on television.
"I’m confident that he deserves a second chance and I’m confident that Brian is as good at his job as he was last year at this time," Lack said. "I think viewers will engage with good work. It’s not going to happen overnight … We’re playing a long game here."

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