While NBC “Nightly News” host Lester Holt may not have been that explicit in his comments to the attendees at the 45th Edward R. Murrow Symposium at Washington State University, it was the underlying message. Holt received the Lifetime Achievement Award from the Edward R. Murrow College of Communication and talked to students, faculty, and other attendees in his acceptance speech. During the 44-minute presentation, Holt attempted to defend his profession from accusations of partisanship and bias.
He opined on his coming of age, which included covering the Vietnam War, college campus protests, the assassinations of Martin Luther King Jr. and Bobby Kennedy, Watergate, and the riots of the late 1960s. He noted that there were not text alerts or social media to give viewers a glimpse of breaking news the way there is today, so Americans relied on the anchors at the major networks to provide the news. Then he compared it to today:
Today it may seem similarly unhinged. The pandemic, political dysfunction, and upheaval, racism, and violence in the streets. Today audiences are again flocking to network newscasts. In a 24-hour newsroom, by the time you sit down with me, I get it. There’s a good chance you already know at least the first brushstrokes of the day’s major headlines. You tune in, I suspect, to understand it all and find perspective. And I can tell you we take that responsibility very seriously.
In reality, those engaged in the day’s news have probably heard or read at least one expert on China relations break down what happened at the meeting with the CCP in Alaska. Likely they saw at least four takes on the Georgia election bill and probably learned something about a load of pork or graft shoved into the newest trillion-dollar bill. All before they ever turn on the network news. In short, many Americans have a broader perspective on the news of the day than the nightly news anchor does. As a result, the bias in the reporting of news we have already read is quite apparent in a way it was not before the internet. Holt goes on:
Of all the things our nation is grappling with, in my opinion, the most worrisome is the death of truth and trust in our institutions. Please know this is something I’ve expressed worries about going back long before the previous administration. It’s been a slow erosion, but the answers and conclusions are already pre-loaded for us on social media or opinion-oriented programs. We have increasingly lost our critical thinking skills. The ability to hold things to the light and ask key questions for ourselves, unafraid that the answer may not be what we hoped.
Did you get that? Because you have access to more information, a range of opinions, or have read different takes than Holt and his colleagues will provide, you have lost your critical thinking skills. Has he ever written a research paper? Taken three dozen sources and combined them into a perspective after he chased down the answers to his questions? The idea that we lose perspective with more information is absurd. It leads many Americans to a different perspective than Holt and the other gatekeepers in the establishment media prefer, which is the real problem. He just can’t say that out loud. Holt’s next line should make you laugh out loud:
Sometimes a story falls in our laps in the newsroom and it seems huge. Then we begin to tug at it and pull at it looking for holes and suddenly it falls apart.
Wipe your eyes and catch your breath. How hard did any establishment news organization “tug” on the Covington kids’ story? The full video only broke thanks to Robby Soave from Reason. How hard did his organization “pull” on the story of Justice Brett Kavanaugh’s accuser Julie Swetnick and her claims of gang-rape parties? Or Dr. Christine Blasey-Ford’s, for that matter? They never pulled or tugged at all on the police-involved shooting of Jacob Blake in Kenosha, Wisconsin, or George Floyd’s death. Nor has the corporate media ever displayed one iota of curiosity about antifa and the riots and destruction ongoing in the Pacific Northwest today. Holt is simply pulling our leg.
Holt blames President Trump’s rhetoric for hurting the standing of journalism. Conservatives know that complaints about media bias long predate the election of the last president. He just put pointed rhetoric on it. The Media Research Center was founded in 1987 and has highlighted left-wing media bias for years. The organization has never had a shortage of content.
Holt asserts that the more the media relied on truth and facts in the last four years, the more accusations of lying were leveled against them. Let’s just pick one for Lester: Russian collusion. If he wants to know when institutional trust crashed, start there. Then he offers a solution:
Number one, I think it has become clear that fairness is overrated. Whoa, before you go out and tweet that headline, let me explain a bit. The idea that we should always give 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. I know that 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 give unsupported arguments equal time are not a dereliction of journalistic responsibility or some kind of agenda. It’s just the opposite.
Holt thinks you are stupid. You aren’t supposed to notice the fact that no establishment media outlet has ever asked Stacey Abrams for proof of voter suppression in her 2018 gubernatorial race. They take her assertion on faith and have never interviewed the countless journalists who have data to prove otherwise. They never did an honest assessment of the Nunes memo on FISA abuse or had a Republican member of the committee where the host was not combative. As of today, Governor Brian Kemp has not been on a network news program to respond to the allegations of voter suppression in the new election security bill.
The network news does not just eliminate unsupported positions. They eliminate the legitimate arguments and facts inconvenient to the narrative they still desperately seek to control. Holt longs for the days of effective gatekeeping that Walter Cronkite had before the internet. A change to the industry is coming, and while no one knows what it will end up looking like, everyone knows it is not a network news anchor feeding us their preferred narrative.
WATCH Lester Holt”s full acceptance speech