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Brian Williams returns as MSNBC breaking news anchor, covering Pope Francis visit

Brian Williams at a Cantor Fitzgerald Charity Day

Brian Williams at a Cantor Fitzgerald Charity Day event in Manhattan on Sept. 11, 2012. Credit: AP / Andrew Toth

"I'm Brian Williams and in a short time, Pope Francis will arrive in this country."

And with those words, the former "Nightly News" anchor who ended his six-month suspension for embellishment last month returned to the air Tuesday at 3 p.m. -- on MSNBC.

Appearing as if nothing at all had changed over the past six months, nor acknowledging what had happened, Williams launched straight into his new role. Just a professional anchor with a professional mien who -- nonetheless -- happens to have a little professional baggage, too.

Williams, 56, smoothly recapped the "what we know" opening that often comes at the top of any news broadcast -- conducted crosstalk with other reporters and contributors (To Maria Shriver: "Maria, what were you thinking about this visit? How does it affect you?")

He asked "Meet the Press" anchor Chuck Todd about the pope's arrival in the midst of a raucous, bitter political season: "It will be a palette cleanser for everyone," Todd said.

And, doubtless, one for Williams as well.

NBC has been silent on Williams within its midst -- other than to announce over the summer that his future role at the network would be confined to MSNBC. The network is at the outset of a rebuild designed to emphasize hard news in daytime, which has been largely barren terrain in recent years. Williams is here, in part, to change all that.

The day went well for the prodigal anchor, with a few minor blips. On WNBC/4, which was carrying NBC News' coverage, Williams' "Nightly" replacement, Lester Holt took the lead anchor role during the pope's arrival. And at moments, it was unclear whether the left hand, so to speak, knew exactly what the right was doing: Williams asked his control room whether "we've re-established communications with Anne Thompson," the NBC News correspondent who had traveled on the Pope's flight with other reporters. In fact, at that very moment, Thompson was on the air speaking with Holt.

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