Journalists are taught not to become part of the stories they cover – a lesson Lester Holt has learned is easier said than done since becoming anchor of the NBC “Nightly News” in 2015.
The 57-year-old Holt, who grew up in Rancho Cordova, became a story as the first African American to solo anchor a network news broadcast when Brian Williams was suspended and replaced for exaggerating his role in covering the Iraq War. Holt returned to the headlines during last year’s presidential campaign, when he faced criticism from both sides of the aisle for his role as a debate moderator.
During an interview Sunday afternoon, Holt said he’s learned to take such criticism in stride. “We should not be concerned with being liked,” he said. “We have to rise to the occasion.”
Holt is in the area for three days to shoot the first in a series of “Nightly News” broadcasts in cities across the country. He interviewed six people on the patio of The Firehouse Restaurant in Old Sacramento. Portions of the interviews are scheduled to run during the “Nightly News” broadcast at 5:30 p.m. Monday on Channel 3 (KCRA), which also will include a live broadcast of Holt from Old Sacramento.
Sacramento is the first of four cities to be featured in the “Across America” series. Holt will also visit Warren, Mich., a suburb of Detroit; Fayetteville, N.C.; and Washington, D.C. The idea is to gauge the concerns of people in various regions as President-elect Donald Trump takes office Friday, Holt said.
Holt, who has been staying with his parents during the visit, says Sacramento was chosen for the series because it is one of the most ethnically diverse places in the country. Because of that diversity, Holt said he was not surprised to learn that concerns about immigration were on the minds of some of the people interviewed Sunday. He said one woman, who has been in the country illegally, is worried whether she will be able to stay.
With the presidential election showing the country divided on many issues, Holt said he hopes to have a discussion about where there might be common ground. He said his roots in the Sacramento area prepared him for such a discussion, and for his work in general, because the area’s diversity helped to expose him to people from different backgrounds.
Holt’s father served in the U.S. Air Force, and two stints at Mather Air Force Base brought Lester Holt here for junior high and high school. He graduated from Cordova High School in 1977 and attended California State University, Sacramento, before dropping out to take a job at a San Francisco radio station.
Holt has received a number of honors, including being named as one of the 100 most influential people in the world last year by Time magazine. “People liked Walter Cronkite because they trusted what he had to say, and Lester is from that same mold,” astronaut Scott Kelly wrote in an appreciation of Holt.
That isn’t to say the work has been all glory. While moderating a debate between Trump and Hillary Clinton, Holt faced criticism for not questioning the candidates more aggressively. After the debate, Trump complained that Holt was tougher on him than Clinton. Trump also said Holt was a Democrat, when he was registered as Republican. (Holt says he is now registered without a party preference.)
Holt said he’s a journalist, not a moderator, and that’s the role he played in the debate, asking questions that needed to be answered. He said journalists need to continue that role when Trump takes office.
“I think we’re going to be challenged,” he said. “It’s going to be difficult.”