NBC Nightly News anchor Lester Holt says “fairness is overrated” and the news media no longer needs to present both sides of a given story.
Holt, who was this week awarded the Edward R. Murrow Lifetime Achievement Award in Journalism from Washington State University, waxed poetic on the news media, at one point declaring that “it’s become clearer that fairness is over-rated.”
“Before you run off and tweet that headline, let me explain a bit,” he said. “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.”
Holt said “you won’t have to look far to find more current and relevant examples,” noting misinformation about the 2020 presidential election and COVID-19.
And the anchor said there’s no longer any need for a journalist to give both sides of a story equal weight.
“Decisions to not give unsupported arguments equal time are not a dereliction of journalistic responsibility or some kind of agenda. In fact, it’s just the opposite,” Holt said. “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 leader’s views, their policies, and reasoning. It’s really important. But we have to stand ready to push back and call out falsehoods.”
Holt has served as the anchor of NBC Nightly News since 2015, having joined the network in 2000 and working as a co-host of “Today” and other NBC news programs.
The anchor also talked about an evolution of major media companies, which have to win the trust of their audiences even as they report “uncomfortable truths.”
And he acknowledged the fact that a departure from the objectivity once represented in journalism could “reinforce negative sentiment some hold to journalists.”
“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,” Holt said. “Fact-checking is not a vendetta or attack. We all have a stake in us getting it right.”
“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?” he said. “Imagine, if you would, what the pandemic would look like without the media holding leaders to account for vaccines rollouts or countering harmful misinformation or why 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,” Holt added.