In accepting the National Press Club’s 2021 Fourth Estate Award in October, Lester Holt said something that’s both obvious and a necessary reminder: “Facts are under assault.”
Holt, the anchor of “NBC Nightly News,” is right about that. And he’s coming to a place where he can see it in action: Phoenix, where, for instance, a disgruntled state Senate ordered up an expensive amateur audit of the 2020 election, despite the fact that there was no credible evidence of significant voter fraud.
So yes, we know about facts under assault.
Holt will anchor the show from Arizona State University’s Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication on Friday, Nov. 5. It’s the last stop on his periodic weeklong “Across America” series, in which he visits five cities in five days and anchors the newscast from each. The other stops on this tour are Austin, Texas; St. Louis, Missouri; Washington D.C. and Nashville, Tennessee.
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Arizona’s political evolution is one thing bringing Holt to Phoenix
The changing political identity of Arizona is one of the reasons Holt and his team chose Phoenix.
“We’re obviously drawn to the story — I think everyone is that’s paid attention — (of) the changing demographics of Arizona and what that means in terms of its predominant political outlook,” he told The Arizona Republic.
“That’s definitely one of the stories we want to touch. It’s a swing state now. We all know what that means. It’s an extremely divided electorate right now. Arizona is getting and gaining more and more clout, as we saw in the last election.”
It’s one of several topics Holt plans to touch on while he’s here.
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It’s nice to see the city and the state treated as something other than a punchline for late-night hosts, and instead as evolving and growing. It’s not often anymore that you see depictions like what we saw during the recent CBS broadcast of an Arizona Cardinals game — a lot of lonely-looking cacti.
“You’re not out in the desert somewhere by yourselves,” Holt said, laughing.
Obviously traveling from city to city is the conceit of this particular trip. But Holt travels relatively often, anyway.
“We’re a national broadcast,” he said. “I always try to remember that. We’re not a New York or a Los Angeles broadcast. We should reflect that in our coverage. … Our aim is to have a full view of this country, not just a narrow, coastal viewpoint.”
It’s also more fun.
‘We’re at a kind of difficult crossroads … in American journalism’
“I always remind folks that the best days, the most exciting days on this job have not been sitting behind an anchor desk,” Holt said. “I mean it’s great, it’s prestigious, it’s great to have your name on the big graphic. But the excitement of this job is being out where the news is being made.”
The frustration of the job, and any journalism job at the moment, is in convincing some segments of the audience that what you are reporting is true.
“It’s challenging,” he said. “Our challenge right now is to push forward with the facts as we know them, but at the same time not give too much oxygen to these alternate truths, if I can use that phrase.”
But it’s a balance, and it’s a tricky one.
“You don’t want to give too much oxygen to falsehoods,” Holt said. “It’s completely against what we do as journalists. At the same time, you have to be aware of them. So we’re at a kind of difficult crossroads right now in American journalism.”
Holt has been the anchor of “NBC Nightly News” since 2015. He joined MSNBC in 2000 and had a variety of jobs there and at NBC before taking over the anchor chair. It is not something he takes lightly.
“At one point I was on the fifth floor and I realized I was two doors down from (former anchor) Tom Brokaw,” he said. “I was seeing Tom Brokaw on a regular basis. He was talking to me and he had no idea inside I’m going, ‘Wow, this is really cool.’ And I try to remember that, because sometimes people will treat me with a sense of reverence and awe, and I’m kind of like, well it’s just me. And I remember those moments.”
‘NBC Nightly News with Lester Holt’
5:30 p.m. weekdays on Channel 12 (KPNX).
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This article originally appeared on Arizona Republic: Arizona politics bring ‘NBC Nightly News’ and Lester Holt to Phoenix