If there’s any silver lining in the shameful Brian Williams lying-exaggeration-misrembering saga, it’s this: Lester Holt.
Holt, the 55-year-old newsman who happens to be African-American, is getting his shot on the big stage – the NBC Nightly News anchor desk that Williams has been suspended from – without pay – for six months after revelations that Williams offered false statements about his experience reporting in Iraq in 2003.
NBC News President Deborah Turness said in a memo that Williams “misrepresented” events that occurred while he was covering the war.
“It then became clear that on other occasions Brian had done the same while telling that story in other venues,” Turness said. “This was wrong and completely inappropriate for someone in Brian’s position.”
The military newspaper Stars and Stripes published a story saying Williams was incorrect when he said a helicopter in which he and his team were traveling during the invasion of Iraq was hit by rocket propelled grenades. The story was based on eyewitness accounts.
Williams has since apologized on air for his error in judgment but there is speculation in some media circles that Williams cannot survive this storm and may never return to the anchor desk.
Enter Lester Holt.
In an era where President Barack Obama is the nation’s first Black president, where Eric Holder served as the first African-American U.S. Attorney General, and where some still insist we live in a post-racial society, anchor desks in prime time at the major networks -NBC, CBS and ABC – have been void of black men on a regular basis.
The anchor chair, frankly, has been the one coveted spot that is off limits – on a permanent basis – for a Black man. You have to go all the way back to Max Robinson, who became in 1978, the first Black man to anchor a network television broadcast in prime time.
Holt, a 15-year veteran at NBC, is no stranger to the anchor desk. He has filled in for Williams on numerous occasions in the past but now Holt has been thrown in to relieve Williams for the next six months – a role that he should inherit permanently. Holt has also been a co-host of the weekend editions of Today since 2003 and a co-host on Dateline.
Holt is battle tested. He deserves his shot as a permanent anchor, not just as a temporary stand-in for the untrustworthy Williams.
Too often Black professionals – and Black men in particular – are given the helm when the ship is sinking, or at the very least when the ship is taking on water. There often seems to be a crisis that catapults a deserving Black man to the national stage and in this case, the crisis is Williams and the savior is Holt.
It doesn’t really matter how Holt arrived at the anchor desk, the fact is he’s sitting in the big chair as the voice of reason and integrity for NBC News, something that’s been lost and tarnished over the past few days.
What Holt brings to NBC News is stability, honor and truthfulness, something that Williams, despite his 22-year career fell short of.
So at a time when CNN, for example, has withdrawn its support from the National Association of Black Journalists’ 2015 Convention and Career Fair after the group criticized the network for the lack of diversity among its staff members, Holt’s rise to the anchor desk is significant.
Racial diversity is an ongoing problem in all forms of mainstream media and its not getting better despite the outcry. NABJ points out that numerous African-American staff members have either left or been fired from CNN, including anchors like TJ Holmes and Soledad O’Brien.
“Lester Holt has kindly agreed to sit in for me,” Williams said in a statement to his NBC staff.
I hope Holt will be sitting in for good.