While I agree with MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow that former NBC Nightly News anchor Brian Williams deserves a second chance, I’m happy that he will no longer occupy the position he lied himself out of, and that Lester Holt has been named as his permanent replacement.
As much as I criticize the mainstream press for its cowardice on issues like climate change, I don’t usually give enough credit to the Fourth Estate folks who do their jobs with quiet dignity and integrity. I’ve noted before that Maddow and her MSNBC colleague Chris Hayes are national treasures. The same goes for Holt, one of the last bastions of decency in a medium known for decadence. He’s a throwback to the days when news anchors embodied credibility and earnestness.
Holt’s humility shone through in a June 23 New York Times profile:
When Lester Holt was a young broadcast journalist, he dreamed of one day sitting in the chair of the renowned news anchor Walter Cronkite.
That grand ambition faded over the next three decades, even as Mr. Holt’s career took off. He worked a string of local jobs across the country — in Sacramento, Los Angeles, San Francisco, New York and Chicago — before landing at MSNBC, and then, in 2003, at NBC.
By that time, Mr. Holt said in an interview on Monday, the anchor’s chair was “something that I hadn’t thought about for many, many years. It was part of a young guy’s dream.”
On Monday evening Mr. Holt, 56, ascended to the position he had all but given up on, delivering the NBC “Nightly News” broadcast for the first time as its permanent anchor.
Mr. Holt had been serving as “Nightly News” anchor on a temporary basis since February, when Brian Williams was suspended for fabricating a story about his experience during a helicopter attack in Iraq.
As the controversy swept through the newsroom and captured headlines, Mr. Holt said, he tried to avoid the gossip cycle and do his job night after night, aiming to hold steady in the ratings.
“This was a very awkward situation I was put in,” Mr. Holt said in his office at 30 Rockefeller Plaza. “I was basically — under what was difficult circumstances — handed a successful broadcast. I just wanted to make sure I didn’t let anybody down.”
American news anchors are a reflection of their era, whether they intend to be or not. Holt is the perfect newsman for our times, arriving at a moment when Americans are yearning for something real, and have become frustrated by falsehood and fabrication. It can be argued that Holt is the Bernie Sanders of television news, a unique and unlikely figure who attracts attention due to his authenticity.
I hope the Lester Holt era lasts a good long while. I want him to be at that anchor desk for years, so that your children can look to him and see a man of sincerity and strong character, a man who rose to the top on merit, a man who embraced the ethics that others eschewed.