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Tags: nbcnightlynews | lesterholt | disinformation

Warning Journalists Against 'Disinformation,' NBC's Lester Holt Says 'Fairness Is Overrated'

Warning Journalists Against 'Disinformation,' NBC's Lester Holt Says 'Fairness Is Overrated'
Lester Holt attends the 51st NAACP Image Awards non-televised Awards Dinner on Feb. 21, 2020 in Hollywood, California. (Photo by Matt Winkelmeyer/Getty Images)

By    |   Thursday, 01 April 2021 11:45 AM EDT

NBC Nightly News anchor Lester Holt argues that "fairness is overrated" — and giving both sides of an argument "equal weight and merit" is not imperative.

In an acceptance speech after receiving the Edward R. Murrow Award for Lifetime Achievement in Journalism on Tuesday, Holt said journalists should call out misinformation.

"I think it's become clearer that fairness is overrated," Holt said.

"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.

"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 continued.

"Providing an open platform for misinformation for anyone to come and say whatever they want, especially when issues of public health and safety are at stake can be quite dangerous," he said. "Our duty is to be fair to the truth ... 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." 

Referencing "recent events" such as the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol where members of Congress were certifying the presidential vote, and online conspiracy theories about the coronavirus pandemic, Holt said there are moments that require journalists to dismiss falsehoods and focus on provable truths.

Decisions to not give unsupported arguments equal coverage time "are not a dereliction of journalistic responsibility or some kind of agenda," Holt said. "In fact, it's just the opposite." 

He also spoke about the changing responsibilities of media companies to build relationships with their audiences but not let popularity stand in the way of reporting "uncomfortable truths." 

He acknowledged the sentiment he was expressing about any departure from total objectivity in reporting might "reinforce negative sentiment some hold about 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. We all have a stake in us getting it right."

He urged journalists to pursue the truth and be aware of their responsibility in times of crisis.

"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," Holt said.

Holt was promoted to anchor of  "Nightly News" in 2015, following the departure of Brian Williams. Holt also hosts NBC’s "Dateline," and has moderated presidential primary debates town halls.

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NBC Nightly News anchor Lester Holt argues that "fairness is overrated" — and giving both sides of an argument "equal weight and merit" is not imperative...
nbcnightlynews, lesterholt, disinformation
462
2021-45-01
Thursday, 01 April 2021 11:45 AM
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