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Lester Holt acknowledges media need to listen to critics after once saying 'fairness is overrated'

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NBC “Nightly News” anchor Lester Holt shared a surprising message upon accepting a press award, saying that he and his fellow media members would do well to start heeding viewers’ criticism about their coverage. 

While accepting the National Press Club’s 4th Estate Award last week, Holt admitted he skims through emails and Twitter to see what audiences are saying about his show’s coverage of current events. He said that although he finds many of those comments off-base he’s found a good number of the naysayers have some constructive criticism.

“But occasionally there are remarks or observations that sting or touch a nerve or aren’t so off base, calling us out for how a story was reported – not so much factual errors, per se, but more contextual points, tonal points,” Holt said. “They are critiques that nag at the back of my mind, and when I finally allow myself to acknowledge some truth to their criticism, I’m able to admit to myself, you know we could have been better. We should have been better. More precise. And I make a mental note for the next time.”

NBC Nightly News anchor Lester Holt hosts an NBC News town hall event with U.S. Democratic presidential candidate and former Vice President Joe Biden in Miami, Florida, U.S., October 5, 2020. REUTERS/Brendan McDermid

NBC Nightly News anchor Lester Holt hosts an NBC News town hall event with U.S. Democratic presidential candidate and former Vice President Joe Biden in Miami, Florida, U.S., October 5, 2020. REUTERS/Brendan McDermid
(REUTERS/Brendan McDermid)

Holt did not acknowledge criticism of a political slant in his remarks, although nbc has frequently weathered accusations that it skews to the left or ignores negative stories for progressives.

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“We have to strive to be better,” Holt concluded in his speech. “Better today than the day before. And better yet the next day. And it means a willingness to look into the mirror sometimes.” 

He encouraged his fellow media personalities to “read the room” and try some self-reflection.

Cornell Law School professor and media critic William A. Jacobson said Holt’s stance was a welcome “small step forward,” but that he and the mainstream media have a ways to go to regain the trust of the American people.

“Holt’s statement was a small step forward, but huge strides are needed,” Jacobson told Fox News Digital. “At least he acknowledges some shortcomings, but he doesn’t acknowledge the profound loss of trust in the press that is caused by mainstream media bias and partisanship.”

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To other observers’ ears, Holt’s declaration Monday was a far cry from his previous take that “fairness is overrated.”

Democratic presidential candidate former Vice President Joe Biden speaks at a NBC Town Hall at Pérez Art Museum, Monday, Oct. 5, 2020, in Miami, as moderator Lester Holt listens. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)

Democratic presidential candidate former Vice President Joe Biden speaks at a NBC Town Hall at Pérez Art Museum, Monday, Oct. 5, 2020, in Miami, as moderator Lester Holt listens. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)

“I think it’s become clear that fairness is overrated … the idea that we should always give two sides equal weight and merit does not reflect the world we find ourselves in,” Holt said while accepting an award at the 45th Murrow Symposium last March.

“That the sun sets in the west is a fact,” he continued. “Any contrary view does not deserve our time or attention,” Holt continued. “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.”

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Like Jacobson, the Media Research Center’s Dan Gainor didn’t completely buy Holt’s apparent turnaround.

“How nice that a network anchor deigns to listen to viewer critiques ‘sometimes,’” Gainor told Fox News Digital. “Holt is wrong. It isn’t just ‘tonal points.’ NBC repeatedly ignores stories that might undermine a leftist narrative or pushes that narrative openly, especially to attack former President Donald Trump. “

“It’s doubtful that Holt is serious about fixing his broken network’s news division,” he added. “But if he is, then he’d agree to meet with conservatives and not just hear them out but take action on their concerns. It’s long past time for that to happen.”

EDS NOTE: OBSCENITY - Demonstrators paint on the CNN logo during a protest, Friday, May 29, 2020, in Atlanta, in response to the death of George Floyd in police custody on Memorial Day in Minneapolis. The protest started peacefully earlier in the day before demonstrators clashed with police. (AP Photo/Mike Stewart)

EDS NOTE: OBSCENITY – Demonstrators paint on the CNN logo during a protest, Friday, May 29, 2020, in Atlanta, in response to the death of George Floyd in police custody on Memorial Day in Minneapolis. The protest started peacefully earlier in the day before demonstrators clashed with police. (AP Photo/Mike Stewart)

Some media figures, however, have yet to have their own light bulb moment. NBC’s “Meet the Press” host Chuck Todd recently dismissed the notion of there being liberal bias in the media as a Republican talking point.

“The Republicans have subsumed all of this and it’s turned into this,” Todd said in July. “We should have fought back better in the mainstream media. We shouldn’t [have] accepted the premise that there was liberal bias. We should have defended.”

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Holt’s decision to start taking more public advice comes amid polling that has consistently shown widespread distrust in the media.

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