Early ratings indicate viewers accept Brian Williams’ return on MSNBC

Pope Francis emphasizes forgiveness, and apparently, MSNBC viewers agree, at least when it comes to Brian Williams.

Williams’ coverage of the pope’s arrival Tuesday in the United States was watched by 526,000 viewers from 3 p.m. to 5 p.m. Eastern, according to Nielsen, a 57% lift over what the cable news network has drawn in those hours over the previous four weeks. The report was the first time viewers had seen Williams in the TV news anchor chair since February, when he was suspended by the network for making false statements on and off the air about his 2003 reporting on the U.S. invasion of Iraq.

Sept. 23, 4:53 p.m.: An earlier version of this article said MSNBC drew 76% more viewers between 3 p.m. and 5 p.m. Tuesday than it had during those hours in the previous four weeks. It drew 57% more viewers in that time.

NBC News is using the coverage of the pope’s visit to launch Williams in his new role of breaking news anchor on MSNBC. The network removed Williams from the anchor job at “NBC Nightly News” in June, replacing him with Lester Holt.

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MSNBC’s audience was the smallest among the three cable news networks providing continuous coverage of the pope’s arrival at Joint Base Andrews outside of Washington, D.C. But the increase was in line with the 59% lift for CNN’s audience of 920,000 viewers. Both networks typically see their audiences grow during live coverage of major news events.


Fox News had the most viewers with 1.2 million, down 12% from the prior four-week average but in line with what it typically draws in those hours with regular programming.

While Williams did not make MSNBC competitive with its cable news rivals (his appearance was promoted on the air only a few hours before he went on), the ratings grew enough to show that viewers are not turned off by his return after the suspension.

Williams was back at the MSNBC anchor desk on Wednesday for more coverage of Pope Francis’ visit.

Twitter: @SteveBattaglio