As the title of this blog should indicate, I am no fan of Lester Holt, who has been the news anchor for NBC Nightly News and Dateline NBC for many years. However, recent events have reinforced my low opinion of him, and I would like to take this opportunity to elaborate on that subject.
Holt was recently presented with the Edward R. Murrow College of Communication Lifetime Achievement Award, and during the presentation ceremony Hold gave a keynote address that has raised a number of eyebrows across the globe. The reason why so many people took offense to Holt's comments were that he made it clear that he believes fairness in journalism isn't necessary, and how self-important he views himself, and what self-appointed role he believes he holds within our society.
I will include a rather lengthy quote from Holt's self-aggrandizing manifesto at the awards ceremony, but I want you to pay special attention to a few of the things that he is saying.
First of all, under the guise of separating 'truth' from 'misinformation,' Holt is giving himself unrestricted power to determine - by himself - what constitutes a 'fact,' and thereby granting himself the power to be as biased and subjective as he sees fit, instead of simply providing information to the public and letting the people choose for themselves what is newsworthy. Journalism is supposed to be unbiased and objective, which is the definition of 'fairness,' but Holt obviously doesn't see things that way; he believes that he is the arbiter of truth, and he has the power to withhold anything with which he disagrees. However, Holt isn't content with simply providing himself with tendentious superpowers, he takes one step further to insult his journalistic peers, whom Holt clearly views as far beneath him.
In other words, Holt sits in his ivory tower of voluminous wisdom that the ignorant masses and his foolish journalistic competitors do not possess, and he only reports on those things that his vastly superior intellect deems worthy of his merit.
Before I present Holt's comments, I should make one last thing very clear: when Holt refers to journalism as the "Fourth Estate," that is a concept that traces its roots back to the time before the French Revolution, when political power was shared between the "Three Estates" of the clergy, the nobility, and the commoners. When Holt uses the term the "Fourth Estate," make no mistake - he is stating unequivocally that he believes that the news media deserves a seat at the table of power to make political decisions; and THAT statement should scare everyone.
And with that, the following excerpt is Lester Holt in all of his raw, unbridled hubris. The text is from https://youtu.be/AWIbAKI9PSA?t=1067, which is several minutes into Holt's speech, but it contains the sections that reveal how he views himself as a journalist. That being said, I will include a link to the full speech below this quote.
"The democratization of journalism, made possible by smartphones and the internet, has opened a whole new hyperspeed network of raw and often unfiltered information.
In the meantime, traditional journalists spent the last four years being labeled 'enemies of the people,' blasted from the world's biggest megaphone. And it didn't come without a price. It's hurt the standing of journalism, and allowed misinformation, some of it dangerous, to gain critical mass. And it forced us down a path towards what at times was a toxic relationship between the executive branch and the fourth estate. That's not a healthy place for any of us.
The media's reliance on truth and facts was turned upside down and weaponized as evidence of lies. The more we try to separate fact from fiction, the easier it became to label us as partisan tools.
'Dog bites man' is not a story. It's common, happens all the time. But 'man bites dog' gets your attention, right? We don't see that, so it's news. Safe to say, we chased a lot of those stories the last several years, things we'd never seen before. Now, whether they were good or bad is irrelevant, but we couldn't look away because they were new and different and had to be reported.
I'm asked a lot now how the news media recovers from the damage. Let me first say the damage only goes so deep, as millions and millions of Americans still turn to news organizations - like mine - for trusted information. The unprecedented attacks on the press in this period I'm sure we'll fill plenty of books and be studied in classrooms, maybe even here. But I have a few early observations I'll share about where this moment brings us and what we can learn.
Number one is: I think it's become clear that 'fairness' is overrated. Whoa, before you run off and tweet that headline, let me explain a bit.
The idea that we should always give two sides equal weight and merit does not reflect the world we find ourselves in. That the sun sets in the west is a fact. Any contrary view does not deserve our time or attention. Now I know recent events assure that you won't have to look far to find more current and relevant examples; I think you get my point.
Decisions to not give unsupported arguments equal time are not a dereliction of journalistic responsibility or some kind of an agenda. In fact, it's just the opposite. Providing an open platform for misinformation, for anyone to come say whatever they want, especially when issues of public health and safety are at stake, can be quite dangerous.
Our duty is to be fair to the truth. Holding those in power accountable is at the core of our function and responsibility. We need to hear our leaders' views, their policies, and reasoning, it's really important. But we have to stand ready to push back and call out falsehoods.
Now I understand what I just said will only reinforce negative sentiments some hold to journalists. And that leads me to my second point. The need to be 'respected' versus the need to be 'liked.'
Let me be frank. Media companies proudly invest in promoting the quality of their journalism, and rightfully so, but they also invest in the faces of their organizations to help weave a relationship and identity with audiences and readers. While we all like to be liked, we don't let that stand in the way of calling out uncomfortable truths. That we have had to be more direct in our language in recent times only speaks to the volume and gravity of particular statements and claims.
Remember this: fact checking is not a vendetta or attack. We all have a stake in us getting it right.
And lastly, on where we go from here. We will need to take a hard look at our respective lanes and how we make sure we stay between the lines. The TV and media landscape can look very, very much the same. People are who are well-dressed sitting at plexiglass desks against giant video screens with lots of words on them. But the content can be very different.
Opinion oriented cable programming, featuring provocative and often partisan voices, is popular, and it has its place. But it should not be confused with mainstream newscasts, which have their place too. Informed, knowledgeable analysis is not the same as opinion. I think all media could benefit from greater transparency as to who we are and what our chosen lanes are."
The irony of Holt's comments are that he is clearly incapable of realizing that the damage that has been done to public opinion of journalism during recent years has not been the result of insults from the Executive Branch of our government; on the contrary, people distrust journalists for precisely the behavior that Holt is advocating. It is not the role of the press to decide what the people should believe; the press should simply report what happened and relegate their opinions to editorial columns.
Nevertheless, I promised to include the awards ceremony in its entirety, and here is that video.