There’s at least one group of people happy to see Brian Williams.
The former NBC anchor made his first public appearance on Sunday since his suspension, using his celebrity to help his old high school stay open.
Williams attended at a fundraiser for Mater Dei, the Catholic high school in New Jersey that he attended. The anchor spoke with local paper The Two River Times, which called him the school’s “most famous graduate” in its report on the event, the “Save the Seraphs” gala.
Williams had not been seen at a public event since his suspension in early February for six months without pay after falsely recounting his experiences while reporting in Iraq.
The attendees, who were there to help the school raise the $1 million it needs to stay open, seemed not to hold Williams’ recent controversy against him.
“He had a lot of friends he went to school with,” Maria Buzzanco, who co-chaired the fundraiser, told the paper. “He was happy to come back to the Shore Casino because he went to proms there. He was greeted with warm hugs. Everyone was telling him how much they support him as well, and thanked him for coming.”
Williams’ suspension had been widely seen as a precursor to his leaving the network. Since then, prospects for the anchor’s return have improved, thanks in part to an executive shakeup in the news division that installed his former mentor at its head.
NBC brought back Andrew Lack to serve as chairman of NBC News, who had previously served as president of the division from 1993 through 2001. During that time, Williams rose through the ranks of the news division, serving as chief White House correspondent, anchoring The News with Brian Williams on MSNBC and serving as weekend anchor and replacement for Tom Brokaw on The NBC Nightly News.
NBC’s flagship evening news program has maintained its audience ratings in Williams’ absence, retaining the top network news position while Lester Holt fills in. Some have noted that these ratings have been boosted by rebroadcasting the program in the early morning in some markets.
Williams had been the subject of widespread criticism over the inconsistencies in his recollections, but had received some support from his friend Jon Stewart and his daughter Allison Williams, who said during an appearance in February: “I can’t wait until he’s back on TV, and I know that many of you guys feel that way.”
NBC did not immediately respond to an inquiry about whether Williams’s appearance had been approved.