Accepting Murrow Award, NBC’s Holt Declares ‘Fairness is Overrated’

During a virtual address to Washington State University’s College of Communications while accepting the Edward R. Murrow Lifetime Achievement Award Tuesday night, NBC Nightly News anchor Lester Holt dismissed objective reporting and declared that “fairness is overrated.” The evening news host saw no reason to “always give two sides equal weight and merit,” as long as he deemed one side to have the correct position on an issue.

“The unprecedented attacks on the press in this period I’m sure will fill plenty of books….But I have a few early observations I’ll share about where this moment brings us and what we can learn,” Holt proclaimed during his speech. He followed up by announcing: “Number one is, I think it’s become clearer that fairness is overrated.”

 

 

Quickly promising to back up his provocative statement, Holt continued:

Woah, 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. And 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 agenda. In fact, 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.

He failed to provide any specific examples of topics that he decided were not up for debate, however, NBC News has made it clear that dissent on liberal agenda items like climate change will not be tolerated:

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Holt promised that he was only interested in “truth” and holding the powerful to account:

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.

Of course that flies in the face of the number of softball interviews Holt has conducted with leaders at home and abroad:

> Just weeks before the 2020 election, Holt sat down for a ridiculous softball town hall with then-candidate Joe Biden, which was followed a week later by Today show host Savannah Guthrie ripping into President Trump during a similar event.

> In March of 2020, Holt had a glowing exchange with New York Governor Andrew Cuomo, just days after the scandal-plagued Democrat signed an order forcing COVID-positive patients back into nursing homes, a policy responsible for thousands of deaths statewide.

> In 2019, Holt even helped one of America’s enemies push propaganda, when he asked Iranian foreign minister Mohammad Zarif if the autocratic regime would “act militarily” in order to end the “stranglehold” of U.S. economic sanctions.

> Worried about Hillary Clinton’s election chances in 2016, Holt confessed that he “winced” when a Bernie Sanders supporter called out her dishonesty during a campaign event and sympathized: “…do you get your feelings hurt sometimes?”

That’s the kind of “journalism” for which liberal media fixtures like Holt are celebrated. Who needs fairness as long as Democrats are pleased with the fawning news coverage they reliably receive?  

On Wednesday’s Today show, co-host Savannah Guthrie gushed over the “prestigious honor given to our very own Lester Holt,” describing the award as one “given to those who have demonstrated a commitment to excellence that exemplifies the career of Edward R. Murrow.” She touted him providing “some advice to young aspiring journalists” before playing a soundbite of his remarks.

The network’s shameless self-promotion on the morning show was brought to viewers by Dove and American Express. You can fight back by letting these advertisers know what you think of them sponsoring such content.   

Here is a partial transcript of Holt’s March 30 remarks:

(…)

LESTER HOLT: The unprecedented attacks on the press in this period I’m sure will 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 clearer that fairness is overrated. Woah, 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. And 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 agenda. In fact, 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, they 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 media landscape can look very, very much the same – people 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 it’s 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.

As we strengthen the bonds of trust, we should not be afraid to take satisfaction from revealing reporting, but there should be no place for snark, belittling, or arrogance. But we need a willing public partner to help shore up the pillar of journalism, which gets back to you, our audiences, and the value of critical thinking.

At the beginning of my remarks, I told you about how I leaned on the job. Without guidance, I would have simply failed. If you have ever tweeted or Facebooked an account of something, you’re effectively a citizen journalist and learning on the job. And thanks to technology, you’re capable of commanding massive audiences. And it’s a big responsibility. We have all seen the cost of taking it lightly or recklessly. Whether in 240 characters or in a 30-minute newscast, we need to weigh our words, consider our sources, report what we know to be true, not what we wish to be true.

News literacy is extremely important, we must help our audiences understand what our role is in a healthy democracy. Because if we’re not asking the right questions, who is? Imagine, if you would, what the pandemic would look like without the media holding leaders to account or vaccine roll-outs or countering harmful misinformation or the way some communities are being left behind.

Regard for truth must regain a foothold in our society so that we can weather the storms of tomorrow’s calamities, tomorrow’s pandemics.

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