Lester Holt Could Flip ‘Audition’ Into a Permanent Gig at NBC Nightly News

Lester Holt
NBC News screenshot
Lester Holt
NBC News screenshot

Some Say Time Is Right for NBC News Workhorse

Lester Holt, who is sitting in the anchor chair of "NBC Nightly News" for the next six months after the suspension of anchor and managing editor Brian Williams, will initially be working seven days a week, an NBC official told Journal-isms on Wednesday.


Holt, the all-purpose substitute at NBC News, will continue this week to anchor "Dateline" on Friday, and anchor both "Weekend Today" and the weekend "NBC Nightly News," the official, who did not want to be further identified, said by telephone. Holt's workload henceforth has yet to be determined, the official said.

Holt told "Nightly News" viewers Wednesday what most already knew.

"About halfway through the broadcast, Holt followed a piece about snow in Boston by saying, 'Now to the story many of you are talking about tonight and one that not only hits close to home but in our home,' " Holt said, Matt Wilstein reported for Mediaite. "He went on to announce Williams' suspension and read statements from NBC News president Deborah Turness and NBC Universal Chairman Steve Burke, before offering some thoughts of his own.

" 'If I may, on a personal note say, it's an enormously difficult story to report,' Holt said. 'Brian is a member of our family, but so are you, our viewers. We will work every night to be worthy of your trust.' "

Wilstein continued, Williams' "supposedly temporary departure from the anchor desk has left Holt with an 'enormously difficult' task. He has not been named as Williams' permanent replacement, but is being tasked with restoring the trust the long-time anchor squandered for NBC News with his actions. . . ."

Holt was initially ignored in the first wave of coverage during the Williams scandal, in which Williams admitted exaggerating his role in a helicopter incident in Iraq. Media writers and watchers began to assess him as it became apparent that he would be sitting in the anchor chair of the most highly rated evening news program for six months — and maybe longer.

"Consider the next six months an audition for Lester Holt, the weekend anchor who will now substitute for Williams in his absence,' " Politico's Dylan Byers wrote Tuesday night, after the announcement of Williams' suspension. "Meanwhile, the execs at Comcast/NBC will be hard at work considering an alternative replacement if Holt can't sustain the ratings. Possible anchors include both Today show co-hosts Matt Lauer and Savannah Guthrie. . . ."


David Bauder, media writer for the Associated Press, agreed Wednesday that viewership will be key. "With 'Nightly News' atop the ratings for almost all of Williams' decade-long tenure as its lead anchor — and back into the 1990s with Tom BrokawHolt will be watched closely to see if he can maintain that lead," Bauder wrote. "If he can, that may lessen NBC's desire to bring back a more costly anchor with doubts cast on his trustworthiness."

African Americans and other people of color have a special interest in rooting for Holt. He would be the first African American in the weekday chair on a permanent basis since the late Max Robinson sat as one of three co-anchors at ABC from 1978 to 1983.


"NBC made a wise decision making Lester Holt the anchor of the nightly news," Bob Butler, president of the National Association of Black Journalists, told Journal-isms by email on Wednesday. "I have known Lester for most of my professional career. He is a solid professional with tremendous skills. I am very pleased that Lester is getting this promotion. I know it may only be temporary but no one is more deserving."

If African Americans speak up for Holt and win, it wouldn't be the first time. "Chicago viewers may recall Holt from his 14-year run as news anchor at CBS-owned WBBM-Channel 2," Chicago television writer Robert Feder recalled for readers (accessible via search engine). "His hiring there in 1986 was part of a settlement with Operation PUSH that ended a 10-month black viewer boycott triggered by the demotion of Harry Porterfield, then the station' only black anchor. Holt left CBS 2 to join MSNBC in 2000. . . ."


Critics on the media beat have been muted in their discussions of Holt's prospects.

David Hinckley wrote Monday in the Daily News of New York:

"Lester Holt has played many roles for NBC News this century, but nothing anywhere near as big as the one he tackles Monday night: trying to keep the 'NBC Nightly News' competitive and credible until the Brian Williams firestorm and jokes subside.


"Holt's primary task is to reassure viewers that NBC News, the organization, has separated itself from the inconceivably foolish 'conflation' blunder that led Williams to say Friday he's taking himself off the air for a while.

"Based on Holt's 15 years at NBC and 18 at CBS before that, no one now at NBC is better qualified to accomplish that mission.


"He's a solid journalist, a proven big leaguer.

"That's not the same, however, as saying that he's likely to be the man if NBC or Williams decides to make his temporary absence permanent.


"No insult here to Holt. But the position of broadcast evening news anchor is still important enough that it calls for an extra level of telegenic presence, some intangible dash of starpower.

"That's probably not Holt. . . ."

But Alex Weprin, writing Tuesday night forcapitalnewyork.com, was more enthusiasic about the man he called "hardest working person at NBC News." 'Holt remains the most logical choice in the event Williams does not return to the anchor desk," Weprin wrote.


"In some respects, Holt is the right anchor at the right time. . . . He has the gravitas, and he isn't afraid to show personality (or appear on comedy shows), but he is still primarily a news anchor, one with a profile more appropriate for the current media environment.

"If the current situation in American media has chastened the 'voice of god' anchor, there have nevertheless been men and women suited to the requirements of the new, more understated role. If NBC is looking for an anchor for the 21st century, matching Williams' flash and fame may not be the way to go. . . ."


Industry watcher Andrew Tyndall agreed. "CBS News made a bet on the indispensability of the celebrity anchor when it hired Katie Couric to boost its evening newscast ratings; she did more harm than good," he wrote Wednesday for his Tyndall Report. "ABC News made the opposite bet when it delinked the role of evening newsreader from lead anchorman when it hired David Muir to replace the celebrity anchor Diane Sawyer; so far Muir has suffered few audience defections, in fact, if anything, he has attracted viewers.

"Network nightly newscast audiences are remarkably stable, if gradually aging and declining. Audience size is determined much more by the performance of their lead-in local newscasts than by the identity of the newsreader. And, as said, journalistic content is determined much more by the performance of correspondents and producers than by the newsreader's personality.


"If I am right, this is bad news for Brian Williams and the entire industry of agents and aspirants seeking to pocket their share of the network news divisions' diminishing revenues. However, it is not bad news for television audiences, or for the body politic, to the extent that it relies on sound and conscientious journalism from its remaining mainstream media outlets.

"And it clearly can be quite good news for Lester Holt."

Chris Ariens, TVNewser: Here's How 'Today' Reported the Brian Williams Suspension


Ed Bark, unclebarky.com: The polar opposite exits of Brian Williams and Jon Stewart

David Bauder, Associated Press: Debate brews over whether Williams can survive controversy


David Carr, New York Times: Kings of Their Crafts, but on Divergent Paths: Brian Williams's and Jon Stewart's Common Ground

George E. Curry, National Newspaper Publishers Association: Did NBC's Brian Williams Also Lie about Hurricane Katrina?


Robert Feder blog: Collateral damage: NBC 5 staffers under scrutiny

Josh Feldman, Mediaite: Maddow: No One from NBC Will Talk to Us On-Air About Brian Williams


Grantland staff: Lightning Round: Who Will Replace Jon Stewart As Host of  'The Daily Show'?

David Hinckley, Daily News, New York: Lester Holt has tough task of maintaining credibility of 'NBC Nightly News' 


Allen Johnson, News & Record, Greensboro, N.C.: Brian Williams issue a discomfort for Elon

Bill Lindelof, Sacramento Bee: Cordova High's Lester Holt fills in for NBC anchor Brian Williams during suspension


Michael Malone, Broadcasting & Cable: NBC Affiliates Board Supports NBC's Decision on Anchor

Ruben Navarrette Jr., Washington Post Writers Group: Brian Williams the storyteller


New York Times: Email to NBC News Staff About Brian Williams Suspension

Shareen Pathak, digiday.com: Will Brian Williams trigger an NBC advertiser exodus?


Leonard Pitts Jr., Miami Herald: Brian Williams and the loss of credibility (via Facebook)

Frank Rich, New York magazine: How Brian Williams and NBC Made His Scandal Worse


Rick Sanchez, Fox News Latino: Brian Williams should also apologize to the victims of Katrina

Ike Seamans, Miami Herald: The real victims of the Brian Williams scandal

The Smoking Gun: So, What About Rev. Al Sharpton's Suspension?

Al Tompkins, Poynter Institute: Here's why NBC didn't fire Brian Williams

Andrew Tyndall, the Tyndall Report: Brian Williams is not the Indispensable Man

Erik Wemple, Washington Post: The Brian Williams suspension: What’s the point? (video)


Alex Weprin, capitalnewyork.com: After Williams, a new generation of anchors, grounded in reality

Killing of Three Muslims in N.C. Becomes Global Story

"The killing of three promising students plunged two families and two universities into mourning Wednesday and sparked a worldwide social media outcry of 'Muslim Lives Matter,' " Jane Stancill, Jay Price and Anne Blythe reported for the News & Observer in Raleigh, N.C.


"Slain in the Tuesday night shooting were UNC-Chapel Hill dental student Deah Shaddy Barakat, 23; his wife, Yusor Mohammad Abu-Salha, 21; and her sister, Razan Mohammad Abu-Salha, 19; of Raleigh. Police said the attack was preceded by a dispute about parking in the neighborhood of rented condominiums not far from UNC.

"A neighbor, Craig Stephen Hicks, fled after the shooting but later turned himself in to a Chatham County sheriff's deputy. He was charged with three counts of first-degree murder. . . ."


Randall Yip wrote Wednesday for his AsAm News, "Twitter has been filled with outrage that the media has given the killing little attention," citing examples of the outraged tweets.

Later in the day, Linda Darnell Williams wrote for the News & Observer, "The shooting of three Muslim students in a quiet Chapel Hill neighborhood Tuesday evening had become global news Wednesday morning, sparked mostly by emotional social media comments that began as word of the slain students' identities circulated in the Triangle Muslim community. The social media posts continued at a furious pace overnight.


"The story, reported by local print and online media Tuesday evening and overnight, was reported by the BBC World Service early Wednesday and was at the top of Google News by 9 a.m.

"The New York Times, the Los Angeles Times and the Washington Post, among other U.S. newspapers had given the story prominent play on their websites by midday. Stories also appeared on websites of European-based organizations such as The Guardian of London. Major broadcast television networks and CNN soon dispatched correspondents to Chapel Hill. The three leading national television broadcast networks featured the story in the first 10 minutes of their 6:30 p.m. broadcasts. NBC anchor Lester Holt introduced the story as 'Outrage in a storied college town.'


"On cable television, CNN featured the story on all of its news segments throughout the day, often with the screen crawl 'Hate Crime?' . . ."

Arab American Media, #muslimlivesmatter: Chapel Hill Shooting and the Mainstream Media


Kat Chow, "Code Switch," NPR: One Of The Chapel Hill Victims Was Raising Funds To Help Syrian Refugees

Daily Tar Heel coverage, University of North Carolina — Chapel Hill

Mohamad Elmasry, Al Jazeera: Chapel Hill shooting and western media bigotry

Kathleen Parker, Washington Post: The irresponsible reporting in the Chapel Hill killings


Barry Saunders, News & Observer, Raleigh, N.C.: No matter the motive, a tragic loss for humanity

Amanda Taub, vox.com: One quote that shows how the media covers mass shootings differently based on race


Dino Chiecchi Among Those Exiting San Antonio Paper

The San Antonio Express-News eliminated the positions of "a small number" of staff members this week, Managing Editor Jamie Stockwell acknowledged Wednesday, Hernán Rozemberg, editor of the San Antonio Current and a former Express-News reporter, reported.


Rozemberg put the number at six to eight and said they included Dino Chiecchi, recruiter and administrative editor and a former president of the National Association of Hispanic Journalists.

"We had a small number of position eliminations this week as part of a broader reorganization," Stockwell told the Current. "We intend to add to our reporting ranks and digital staff in coming weeks."


Rozemberg wrote, "Here were the names I was given of the staffers no longer on the job: Jay Nanda, Joel Bird and Steve Warns in the sports department; Stan Roberts, Bruno Garcia and David Holguin from the universal desk; Burt Henry from the features department; Richard Erickson, Bill Pack and Dino Chiecchi from the news department.

"Arguably, the most recognized names from that list are Henry, most recently assistant features editor but previously a known fixture in sports, and Chiecchi, who had previously worked at the Express-News in the 1990s.


"He left to work at the Associated Press before returning to San Antonio to first take over supervision of the paper's bilingual publication, Conexión, and most recently led recruiting efforts with the title of Administrative Editor.

"The Express-News, like most newspapers across the country, particularly metropolitan dailies, [has] been taking an incessant blow to the bottom line with the loss of advertising revenue. It's clearly reflected in circulation figures.


"For example, at the Express-News, daily circulation a decade ago stood at around 230,000 copies, diving down to 133,000 at the end of 2013, the most current audited count available from the Alliance for Audited Media. . . ."

Chiecchi is a founding member of the San Antonio Association of Hispanic Journalists and was president of the national organization in 1998. The Express-News reported a newsroom 28.6 percent Hispanic (PDF) in the most recent census of the American Society of News Editors.


Robert Feder, robertfeder.com: Sun-Times aims to cut 22 percent of newsroom staff

Obama Said to Loathe Columnist Maureen Dowd

According to former White House adviser David Axelrod's new memoir "Believer," President Obama reserves an intense loathing for the sharply worded writings of New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd, Dylan Matthews wrote Wednesday for vox.com.


"Here's how Axelrod remembers an encounter during Obama's campaign trip to Europe in the summer of 2008:

" 'Maureen Dowd, the talented but tart columnist for the Times, was traveling with us and was granted a brief interview with Obama. When we brought her to the front of the plane for the interview, however, Obama proceeded to blister her for a previous column she had written.


" 'No one got under Barack's skin more than Maureen, whose penchant for delving into the psyches of her subjects was particularly irritating to the self-possessed Obama. Normally polite under any circumstances, he was patronizing and disrespectful to Maureen in a way that I had rarely seen. This was not well received by Dowd who, like most journalists, was accustomed to firing off salvos, yet decidedly uncomfortable when fired upon herself.

" 'After that awkward encounter, she seemed to take particular delight in psychoanalyzing Barack and belittling him in print, which only deepened his contempt. Maureen, who is as gracious and loyal to her friends as she is rough on the high and mighty, would become a friend of mine in Washington, which became a minor source of tension with Obama. "Why are you friends with her?" he would demand after Maureen sent one of her acid darts his way.


"In an email to the Huffington Post's Michael Calderone, Dowd denied that her writing was motivated by a desire to avenge Obama's slight, writing 'The idea that I punished him for giving me his opinion is not true and plays into an unfortunate stereotype of women, the Furies swooping down. . . ."

BuzzFeed: Full Transcript Of BuzzFeed News' Interview With President Barack Obama


Matt Wilstein, Mediaite: David Axelrod: Race Plays an 'Undeniable' Role in Obama Criticism

Year-Old Story Popular in Wake of Religious Attacks in Paris

A Washington Post story headlined "Tens of thousands of Muslims flee Christian militias in Central African Republic" and published Feb. 7, 2014, suddenly started spiking online last month, Adam Taylor reported Tuesday for the Post.


"So what made this story blow up? A clue comes from social media. When the story became popular again in January, a large amount of its traffic came from social media: We can see that the story was shared thousands of times on Facebook, Twitter and other social media accounts. And, importantly, this sharing seems to have begun just a few days after the attacks at the Charlie Hebdo offices in Paris, attacks committed by Islamist extremists.

"After the attacks in Paris, a now-familiar refrain began to spread online: Why doesn't the Muslim world condemn the actions of extremists? Looking over the tweets that shared The Post's story from around that time, it's clear that the CAR story was seen as a rebuttal to that: "Why doesn't the Christian world condemn this?" many seemed to be saying. . . ."


Taylor also wrote, "While some who shared the story seemed to miss the fact that it was almost a year old, the broader point was persuasive. In some ways, you can see echoes of it in Barack Obama's comments about the Crusades: Bad things have been done in the name of every religion, and demanding collective guilt each time will prove counterproductive. . . ."

Ta-Nehisi Coates blog, the Atlantic: No Escape From History 

Jarvis DeBerry, NOLA.com | the Times-Picayune: After uproar over President Obama's religion comments, columnist says we're not honest about our history


Eugene Robinson, Washington Post: At the prayer breakfast, President Obama struck a patronizing tone

Bob Ray Sanders, Star-Telegram, Fort Worth, Texas: Obama spoke the truth at National Prayer Breakfast


DeWayne Wickham, USA Today: Christianity, Islam cloaks for many sins

After 411 Days, Egypt Grants Bail to Al Jazeera Journalists

"An Egyptian court has ordered the release of detained Al Jazeera journalists Baher Mohamed and Mohamed Fahmy on bail," Al Jazeera reported early Thursday.


"The retrial was ordered by the country's Court of Cassation last month, overturning a lower court verdict that had found them guilty of helping the outlawed Muslim Brotherhood group.

" 'Bail is a small step in the right direction, and allows Baher and Mohamed to spend time with their families after 411 days apart,' an Al Jazeera spokesman said on Thursday.


" 'The focus though is still on the court reaching the correct verdict at the next hearing by dismissing this absurd case and releasing both these fine journalists unconditionally.'

"Judge Hassan Farid said the next hearing would be on February 23.

"A third Al Jazeera journalist, Peter Greste, who was also to be retried, was deported on February 1 under a presidential decree after spending 400 days in prison. He has since returned to his home in Australia.


"The three journalists, along with seven colleagues outside the country, were accused of spreading 'false news' during their coverage of demonstrations protesting a military overthrow of former president Mohamed Morsi in 2013. . . ." [Added Feb. 12]

Todd Found to Bring More Diversity to "Meet the Press"

"The Sunday morning political talk shows have long faced criticism for booking too many old, white men (see: John McCain) to break down the big issues of the week," Matt Wilstein wrote Wednesday for Mediaite. "But according to a new study from Media Matters, Meet the Press under relatively new host Chuck Todd has made great strides towards reversing that trend.


"From his September 1 debut to the end of last year, Todd's Meet the Press guests are still 54% white men, but that's a whole seven points lower than the 61% of white male guests David Gregory hosted on the show last year. Todd's guests were 46% non-white men, compared to just 38% for Gregory.

" 'We're a 21st century political news show. Politics is defined more and more — some political debates and political disagreements are defined sometimes a lot more on gender, on race, on ethnicity, on religion,' Todd told Media Matters this week. 'It's hard to be a political show and not reflect that reality.' But he also said the show has a ways to go, especially when it comes to 'geographic' diversity, ie. not just people from New York and D.C.


"The host cited this past weekend's panel discussion of Obama's National Prayer Breakfast remarks as being enhanced by the presence of Detroit Free Press editorial page editor Stephen Henderson, who highlighted Obama's comments of Christianity's influence on Jim Crow laws. 'We're all focused on the Crusades aspect of it and somebody else, another ethnicity is going to hear something else,' Todd said.

" 'Maybe it's a tone we're setting,' Todd added, in an attempt to explain the shift. 'I also have a fairly young staff. I think millennials do say, "Hey, let's not just have the white male perspective." '. . . ."


Media Matters did not respond to an inquiry about the diversity of its own staff.

Rob Savillo, Media Matters for America: REPORT: State Of The Sunday Morning Political Talk Shows In 2014


NAHJ Board Member Sees "Afro-Latina" Identity as Gift

"The first time I was called a 'nigger,' it was by white Latinos. I was 8 years old," Yvonne Latty, who teaches journalism at New York University, wrote Wednesday for the Huffington Post's BlackVoices and LatinoVoices sites.


"The memory is really painful and defining. Back in the 1970s there wasn't a name for what I was. I was a kid whose mom was a light-skinned Dominican and whose dad was a darker-skinned Jamaican.

"I was darker than both of them.

"I did not understand my identity . . ."

Latty, a board member of the National Association of Hispanic Journalists, also wrote, "In my world most Latino journalists are light-skinned, most Latinos in corporate America are light-skinned, and most Latinos in media are light-skinned. Afro-Latinos are the ones being left out when a New York Times article states that Latinos are checking the 'white' box on the census.


"In May Telemundo and MSNBC anchor José Díaz-Balart was on an MSNBC segment to discuss the controversial New York Times article and was asked if there is a race problem within the Latino community. He said there is not, which reinforced just how invisible we are. And to top it off, the segment did not have one Afro-Latino guest. Speaking on our behalf were African Americans.

"But having a name for my identity, 'Afro-Latina,' has been a gift to me. . . ."

Daisy Rosario, "Latino USA," NPR: SOMOS: Afro-Latino (audio) (Jan. 23)