Will Lester Holt’s Race Influence His Presidential-Debate Questions?

Lester Holt (right) interviews Donald J. Trump at the Trump Tower in May 2016.
NBC News screenshot

"Lester Holt is carrying the weight of the nation," Dylan Byers reported Friday for CNN Money.

"On Monday, the NBC Nightly News anchor will preside over what may be the most highly anticipated presidential debate in American history. . . ."

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Callum Borchers of the Washington Post noted that "Holt . . . is the first black moderator of a general election presidential debate since Carole Simpson in 1992" and quoted Dominic Carter, a New York area black journalist, as saying viewers should not expect Holt's background to influence his questioning.

"We are journalists first," Carter said. "That's a huge distinction. We're not there to advocate on issues relating to African Americans. We're there advocating and asking questions on behalf of the American people. You don't want people to put you in the box of the black guy doing the debate. So you have to be over and above in terms of fairness and professionalism."

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The lead story in Sunday's Los Angeles Times. (Credit: CNN "Reliable Sources")

Of course, African Americans are part of the American people, a point made repeatedly over the weekend at the opening of the National Museum of African American History and Culture on the National Mall.

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In 2004, Gwen Ifill's professional standing rose after she asked vice presidential candidates Dick Cheney and John Edwards about AIDS in the United States, "where black women between the ages of 25 and 44 are 13 times more likely to die of the disease than their counterparts."

"She believes the candidates' answers showed that neither man 'had given it a moment's thought,' " Howard Kurtz reported in 2008 for the Washington Post.

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Holt, named "Journalist of the Year" by the National Association of Black Journalists, has not spoken about his plans for the debate, but he framed the issue differently from Carter when he was named to the anchor job in June 2015. Journal-isms asked Holt then whether his background would make a difference in how he approached the job.

"As we've certainly seen, race has been a recurring theme especially somehow in the last year, it feels like," Holt replied in the telephone interview.

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"That's a story that, of course, everyone wants to cover. I guess it's fair to say that I have a strong sensitivity to that story by virtue of my background. It's a story that, among others, we'll be going at aggressively and try to find new ways — because often, the problem with the race story is that, as you know, ultimately someone says, 'we need to have a conversation.'

"Well, I would argue that we need more than a conversation — we need action, we need something concrete, and to the extent that we can provoke, and tell that story, and move beyond just the conversation, I think is important. That's not to suggest that others won't be covering this story, but I do think it's fair to say that it's one that I have a sensitivity toward."

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Although Holt is the anchor, not the producer of "NBC Nightly News," the show repeated the mischaracterization of June shooting in an Orlando gay nightclub, where a gunman killed 49 people and wounded 53 others, as the worst mass shooting in U.S. history.

That ignored those involving Native Americans and African Americans in earlier times. "Although precise numbers of deaths are impossible to specify, at least 100 African Americans were killed in East St. Louis, Ill., in one bloody night in July 1917; anywhere from 55 to 300 blacks were massacred in Tulsa, Okla., in 16 hours in June 1921; and dozens more were killed in Rosewood, Fla., in January 1923," Ariela Gross wrote in June for the Wall Street Journal.

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"NBC Nightly News" also has yet to report on the air on the months-long resistance of Native Americans to the Dakota Access Pipeline in North Dakota, which has prompted a rare unity among Native tribes and intervention by the federal government to halt part of it.

Still, writing in USA Today, Roger Yu noted Sunday that Holt's "race is another notable variable in a debate that will likely address questions of diversity, immigration, police violence and Muslims in America." Yu quoted Betsy West, a journalism professor at Columbia University and former senior vice president at CBS News, and Mark Feldstein, a professor of journalism at the University of Maryland and a former correspondent at ABC News.

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“ 'It will be powerful to have an African American man posing the questions and moderating the discussion,' West says.

"And he'll be just a few feet away from the man with naked appeal to white nativism.

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" 'Time is ripe,' says Feldstein, 'for a Murrow moment, a Cronkite moment.' . . ."

Some have argued that a debate moderator should not fact-check or challenge the candidates, leaving that to the candidate's opponent. But in the New York Times Sunday, columnist Nicholas Kristof suggested that challenging Trump on his demagoguery would simply be good journalism.

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"In the early 1950s, journalists were also faced with how to cover a manipulative demagogue — Senator Joe McCarthy — and traditional even handedness wasn’t serving the public interest. We honor Edward R. Murrow for breaking with journalistic convention and standing up to McCarthy, saying: “This is no time for men who oppose Senator McCarthy’s methods to keep silent.”

"Likewise, in the civil rights struggles of the 1960s, it was not enough to quote from news conferences by each side. Great journalists like Claude Sitton and Karl Fleming took enormous risks to reveal the brutality of the Jim Crow South.

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"Our job is not stenography, but truth-telling. As we move to the debates, let’s remember that to expose charlatans is not partisanship, but simply good journalism."

USA Today Network, Univision Push Voting

"For the first time in its history, USA Today and its more than 100 partner publications around the country will hold a national voter registration and civic engagement initiative," Kelsey Sutton reported Thursday for Politico.

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"The initiative, called 'Voting Because,' is aimed at making it easier for participants to vote in November and read about the issues in the election. The portal launches Thursday at VotingBecause.com and will be promoted in print and on the digital properties of USA Today Network titles.

"It’s the first major collaborative effort out of the USA Today Network, which was formed in December to connect and encourage collaboration among Gannett’s newspaper titles around the country. . . ."

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On Friday, Univision Communications Inc. announced plans "to encourage citizens to register to vote in conjunction with National Voter Registration Day.

"UCI is leveraging all of its media assets across all broadcast and digital, across its 126 local television and radio stations, including all Entravision-operated stations, to guide Hispanics and diverse communities through the voter registration process. Additionally, as part of its nonpartisan, multiplatform 'Vote for Your America' initiative, UCI is collaborating with leading, national organizations to amplify their existing tools and strategies to motivate and activate voters across the country. . . ."

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In June, WNYC, public radio in New York, found that "Hispanic voters were disproportionately purged from the rolls when compared to all other groups."

On Sept. 8, WNYC, ProPublica, Google News Lab and a broad coalition of news organizations announced a reporting initiative to track and report on voter experiences throughout the U.S. in the upcoming election.

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". . . The goal for Electionland is to provide story leads to local reporters that help them stay on top of problems that voters encounter at their local polling places such as long lines, malfunctioning machines, dropped names from voter rolls," Tyler Falk reported for Current.org. "The tips will be shared in real time as they occur, not after voting in the Nov. 8 election is complete. . . ."

Peter Bhatia, Cincinnati Enquirer: Why we're endorsing for president

Charles M. Blow, New York Times: The Folly of the Protest Vote

Callum Borchers, Washington Post: Another conservative newspaper editorial board just endorsed Hillary Clinton

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David Corn, Mother Jones: The Many Times Donald Trump Has Lied About His Mob Connections

Angelo Falcón, NiLP Report on Latino Policy & Politics: The Presidential Debates and Latino Issues

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Emil Guillermo, Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund: Before the Clinton vs. Trump "Super Bowl" of Presidential Debates, will you kneel with Time cover boy Colin Kaepernick?

Derrick Z. Jackson, Boston Globe: In debate questions, race should be at the top of the list

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Colbert I. King, Washington Post: Trump is trying to rig the debate by kneecapping Lester Holt

Shaun King, Daily News, New York: If you don't vote against Donald Trump, we may all soon regret it

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Nicholas Kristof, New York Times: How to Cover a Charlatan Like Trump

Jonathan Lemire and Emily Swanson, Associated Press: AP-GfK Poll: Majority of Americans fear Trump presidency

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Lisa Lerer and Emily Swanson, Associated Press: Deplorable? Trump more so than Clinton, poll finds

Dana Milbank, Washington Post: More bigotry from the Trump brigade

Andres Oppenheimer, Miami Herald: Would Trump’s foreign policy serve U.S. interests, or his own?

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O. Ricardo Pimentel, San Antonio Express-News: Immigration more complex than ‘build that wall’

Jim Rutenberg, New York Times: A Moment of Truth for Presidential Debate Moderators

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Aaron Sanchez, Latino Rebels: Latinos in the Crossfire of an Internal GOP Civil War

Rick Sanchez, Fox News Latino: To Hillary Clinton, Latino business is just a collection of taco vendors

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Fabiola Santiago, Miami Herald: Skittles stunt shows Trump Jr. is a chip off the old prejudiced block

Barry Saunders, News & Observer, Raleigh, N.C.: A Republican is friendly with a Democrat, and some folks freak out

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Brian Stelter, CNN Money: How Lester Holt is getting ready for Monday's debate

Kenneth P. Vogel, Ben Schreckinger, Alex Isenstadt and Darren Samuelsohn, Politico: Trump team builds 'psychological profile' of Clinton for debate

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Paul Waldman, Washington Post: Everyone was wrong. Trump isn’t reaching out to white moderates.

Erik Wemple, Washington Post: Study: ‘Reporters quoted Trump more often about Clinton’s policies than they quoted her’

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Charlotte Editor Asks Where Black Professionals Are

"I often hear folks grouse about how small Charlotte really is," Glenn Burkins, editor and publisher of qcitymetro.com, an online-only black-oriented website he launched in 2008, wrote on Saturday. "Go to any Gantt Center social, any Happy Hour event, and you’re sure to see many of the same faces…over and over again. They read like a Who’s Who of the city’s black, professional class.

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Glenn Burkins

"Not so this week at the protest marches.

"And why is that?

"In my 16-plus years as a reporter/editor in Charlotte, rarely have I seen (how do I say this?)… black folks 'of a certain social class' at protest events."

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Burkins founded the site after taking a buyout from the Charlotte Observer, where he was deputy managing editor for local news.

"Not when the school board voted one year to use the MLK holiday as a snow makeup day. Not when Jonathan Ferrell was shot and killed. And not this week following the police killing of Keith Lamont Scott.

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"I’m not writing this to throw shade. Honestly, I’m not. Were it not my job to attend such events, I can’t say for sure that I’d have been there either.

"But it does raise some questions: As well-educated, professional black people, are we simply too busy with work and family to get involved? Do we assume others who are younger and more energetic will carry the ball? Or have we become so isolated from the day-to-day concerns of poverty and injustice that we, to some degree, now see ourselves as somewhat removed from all that mess?

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"Or maybe there’s some other explanation . . ."

Meanwhile, authorities responded to pressure nationally and locally Saturday to release the dashcam and body cam videos of Scott's shooting.

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But as the Charlotte Observer editorialized, "Both sides can claim the videos support their view of the case."

"They are one batch of evidence that tells us certain things but not others . . .," the ed‭itorial said.‬

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Commentator Suspended Over Charlotte Tweet

"USA Today has suspended the column of a conservative commentator for one month after he called for drivers to 'run … down' demonstrators protesting police shootings in Charlotte, North Carolina Wednesday night," Kelsey Sutton reported Thursday for Politico.

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" 'USA TODAY expects its columnists to provide thoughtful, reasoned contributions to the national conversation, on all platforms,' Bill Sternberg, the editorial page editor of USA Today, said in a statement to POLITICO. 'Glenn Reynolds’ [']Run them down' tweet, in response to a news report about protesters in Charlotte stopping traffic and surrounding vehicles, was a violation of that standard and can be interpreted as an incitement to violence.

"Reynolds, a law professor at the University of Tennessee who writes twice a week for USA TODAY, has apologized. His column has been suspended for one month.' . . ."

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Mary C. Curtis with Beverley O'Connor, "The World," Australian Broadcasting Corp.: Race-Related Clashes in Charlotte (video)

Jarvis DeBerry, NOLA.com | the Times-Picayune: Trayvon Martin, an average kid whose mother had big dreams for him

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Jenée Desmond-Harris, vox.com: If you don’t understand Black Lives Matter after Terence Crutcher’s death, you never will

Editorial, Charlotte Observer: Police videos prove little either way

Editorial, Kansas City Star: Video evidence can help public’s responses to police-involved shootings

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Fairness & Accuracy In Reporting: Naureckas to AlterNet: ‘Treat Police Statements as Claims

David A. Graham, the Atlantic: Shattering Charlotte's Myth of Racial Harmony

Ginnie Graham, Tulsa World: Don't fear protests, embrace them

Allen Johnson, News & Record, Greensboro, N.C.: Charlotte could have learned a thing or two from Tulsa

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Peniel Joseph, CNN: Black voters need allies, including the president, to protect lives of people like Terence Crutcher

Shaun King, Daily News, New York: It's time for serious nationwide economic boycotts to end police brutality and racial injustice in America

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Shaun King, Daily News, New York: White supremacists share video picked up by Drudge Report that supposedly shows black Charlotte protesters kicking man — but it's from London

M.L. Nestel and Kate Briquelet, Daily Beast: Cop Indicted for Killing Terence Crutcher Stands by Her Story

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Tony Norman, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette: Even Trump is appalled by police shootings

Leonard Pitts Jr., Miami Herald: Need a ‘big, bad dude’? White criminals need not apply

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Eugene Robinson, Washington Post: In America, gun rights are for whites only

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New Museum Affects Black Journalists Personally

Coverage of the momentous opening Saturday of the National African American Museum of History and Culture included a few personal impressions. Two were by black journalists Sonya Ross, race and ethnicity editor at the Associated Press, and Robin Givhan, fashion writer for the Washington Post. Ross wrote after a preview tour on Thursday.

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"I was feeling pretty good until I saw the cowry shells," Ross began.

"There they sat, arranged in neat little stark-white semi-circles on a dark pedestal lit by a spotlight. Disbelief made me lean in and read the display caption twice: 'Cowries, manillas, beads, and guns changed hands in exchange for African men, women and children.'

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"My people were bought with play money? Wow.

"I expected the new Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture to hold some surprises. The very thing that this museum is about — the contributions of black people to U.S. society — has been untaught for so long that the truth remains elusive.

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"Or at least, it remained elusive until now. Walking up to the museum, an ornate bronze structure situated beside the Washington Monument like pieces on a chess board, I wondered if truth would indeed be my friend inside this place. . . ."

Givhan wrote on Sunday, "I am in the building, but mostly I’m in my head.

"Thinking of the past, considering the future. Mesmerized by the right now.

"This building, the National Museum of African American History and Culture, is monumental in scale. Grand and breathtaking with its elegant filigree panels of bronze-tinted aluminum. The light bounces off the metal, pulling the eye upward, and the building glows. It tugs at emotions, too, because it’s been so long in coming — a century-long dream, a decade-long endeavor.

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"But mostly, the building is dignified. And that is a source of tremendous pride.

"I am here, on opening day, to take it all in. But my first visit to the African American Museum was for a charter member open house. I made my contribution for all sorts of reasons but mostly because of the mantra of my parents to 'never forget where you came from.'

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"That was a warning not to ignore the lessons of history, but it also was a reminder that I should not see good fortune or success as something independently earned but as a community endeavor. It was built on a foundation that was established by those who came before and, in some cases, those who came up at the same time but were left behind. .. ."

On Sunday, just blocks away from Washington's National Mall, site of the museum, the Rev. William H. Lamar IV of the historic Metropolitan AME Church, where Frederick Douglass worshiped, was skeptical. "This has been a week of museums and murder," he told the congregation. The museum folds black people's story into Pax America, he said. He sensed "American propaganda about being liberty and justice for all" and said "newspaper people are employed . . . to tell the same old story."

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Asked to explain afterward, Lamar told Journal-isms that the museum ceremony was designed to make everyone feel comfortable, and that he was irritated by the talk about the museum being for everyone. "Why can't we have a museum for black people?," he asked, adding, isn't the museum of the American Indian for Native Americans? The Holocaust museum for Jews?

He also said black journalists had a responsibility to ask different questions, such as those raised by historian Gerald Horne in writing that the American Revolution was actually about the colonists' desire to escape Great Britain before Britain moved to end slavery.

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Rekha Basu, Des Moines Register: 'Tattooed Professor' makes national name on race, history

Jonathan Black, Daily Press, Newport News, Va.: Newest Smithsonian captures history using Hampton Roads artifacts

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Jonathan Capehart, Washington Post: Lonnie Bunch: Even if you’re white, ‘the story of slavery is still your story’

Josh Chapin, KHOU-TV, Houston: Local professor's art on display at Smithsonian

Cheryl Corley, NPR: In Indiana, The Last Remnants Of America's Free African-American Settlements

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Editorial, Daily News, New York: In guilt and glory: National Museum of African American History and Culture puts black experience on display

Mike Gonzalez, Washington Post: We don’t need a national Latino museum

Colbert I. King, Washington Post: A Washington, D.C., sidewalk tour of slavery and segregation

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Tracie Mauriello, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette: Pittsburgh well-represented in new African American History Museum (Sept. 18)

Peggy McGlone, Washington Post: Who were the big donors to the African American Museum? You’ll know the minute you walk in.

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Peggy McGlone, Washington Post: Riding wave of excitement over African American Museum, backers try again to create an American Latino museum (Sept. 13)

Courtland Milloy, Washington Post: African American Museum offers chance to talk about slavery, but few people want to

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Askia Muhammad, Washington Informer: African-American Museum Gets Rock Star Treatment

Hansi Lo Wang, NPR: Mae Reeves' Hats Hang At National Museum Of African American History And Culture (Sept. 18)

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"This is who we are," reads the copy for an ad for MSNBC that appeared Friday in the Daily Beast. MSNBC came under fire earlier this year for a diminution of diversity in its on-air ranks.

Short Takes

"In further evidence of the growing importance of platforms like Facebook, Apple News, Twitter and Snapchat, CNN has added a director of mobile and off-platform to its growing programming team," Benjamin Mullin reported Friday for the Poynter Institute. "Marcus Mabry, who ran Twitter Moments for U.S. and Canadian audiences, will oversee CNN's mobile and off-platform efforts, including those on Apple News and Amazon Echo. Christina Cuesta Kline, deputy editor on The Wall Street Journal's mobile editorial team, will also join CNN, as senior editor for mobile. . ."

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"Journalism based on gossip or rumors is a form of 'terrorism' and media that stereotype entire populations or foment fear of migrants are acting destructively, Pope Francis said on Thursday," Reuters reported.

"Students at historically black colleges and universities have a low level of trust in the press and are more likely than students at non-HBCUs to favor restrictions on press coverage of campus protests, according to a report released this morning by the Knight Foundation and the Newseum Institute," Jonathan Peters reported Thursday for Columbia Journalism Review.

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"Though the backlash to Colin Kaepernick’s weekly national anthem protest has likely been stronger than the quarterback anticipated, it seems that the positive fallout from his actions has been grander than expected as well," Alex Putterman reported Thursday for awfulannouncing.com. He also wrote, "This week, a striking image of him in his now-signature kneel will appear on the cover of Time, next to a tease reading, 'National anthem protests led by Colin Kaepernick are fueling a debate privilege, pride and patriotism.' . . .”

"As the U.S. starts mending ties with Cuba, Seattle Times reporter Ángel González finds the island country is regaining some capitalist bustle thanks to reforms slowly doled out by its socialist government . . .," the Times wrote in a headline Friday over a the first of a three-part "Cuba Rediscovered" series, "Searching for Cuba’s future in the home of my ancestors." Included is a photo of González visiting "a memorial for his ancestor Ángel del Castillo Agramonte in Lázaro López, Ciego de Ávila province, Cuba. He was a wealthy planter in the late 1800s who rose up against Spain for Cuban independence, and was known for his recklessness."

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"Telemundo has been riding an unprecedented wave of success, smashing ratings records since mid-July with its original programming during primetime from Monday through Friday among adults 18-49, a key demographic for advertisers," Veronica Villafañe reported Sept. 20 for Forbes, in the first of what Villafañe says will be regular contributions to the magazine. "This is extremely significant in the world of Spanish-language television, where Telemundo has trailed powerhouse Univision by huge margins since its inception. . . ."

Carmen Harlan
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"Carmen Harlan, a mainstay of Detroit TV since 1978, is calling it quits," Diana Marszalek reported Thursday for Broadcasting & Cable. "Harlan, a Detroit native, has spent her entire TV career with WDIV, Graham’s NBC affiliate, where she has coanchored the evening and latenight news for more than 20 years. She joined the station in 1978 as a general assignment reporter after working in Detroit radio. . . ." Rochelle Riley wrote Thursday in the Detroit Free Press, "The WDIV-TV Local 4 senior anchor has been as much a part of Detroit history as Sanders Hot Fudge and Faygo soda. She has outlasted football coaches, baseball managers, several companies and most local fads. . . ."

"Rose Pak was remembered for her tough love, dedication to Chinatown and voracious appetite for San Francisco politics at a funeral service Saturday that included speeches and appearances from the city’s movers and shakers, and, in true Pak fashion, a few jabs at her foes," Emily Green reported for the San Francisco Chronicle. Anita Gates reported Tuesday for the New York Times, "Even in her days as a young reporter for The San Francisco Chronicle, she rubbed some people the wrong way. One lawyer found himself in court on a battery charge after he felt compelled to punch Ms. Pak during an interview. He described her in widely reported comments as 'an enormously pushy person'; she defended herself as simply having been trained to be persistent. . . ." She was 68.

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Vogue's October cover.

"It's time to stop expelling energy over the fact that Kendall Jenner now has four international Vogue covers for the month of October alone, because we now have cause to celebrate: Lupita Nyong'o, poetic, noble land-mermaid and Oscar-winning actress, is the cover star of American Vogue's October issue," Maura Brannigan reported Sept. 15 for Fashionista. She also wrote, "To celebrate her new movie 'Queen of Katwe,' a story from her native East Africa, Nyong'o took Vogue — including Mario Testino, Tonne Goodman and her hairstylist Vernon François — to her family's village in Kenya. . . ." Vogue's cover story.

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"The latest members of the FNC Reporter Training Program are now out in the field," Chris Ariens reported Friday for TVNewser. "The program, formerly known as the Ailes Junior Reporters Program after the former Fox News CEO, trains relatively green reporters and puts them in the field for two years. . . ." This year’s graduates are Terace Garnier, Andrew Craft, Ray Bogan and Willie James Inman.

"William C. Rhoden, who for 33 years graced the sports pages of The New York Times, including the past 26 writing the Sports of The Times column, is the 2016 winner of the third annual Sam Lacy-Wendell Smith award presented by the Shirley Povich Center for Sports Journalism at the University of Maryland’s Philip Merrill College of Journalism," the center announced last week.

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"China has tightened restrictions on foreign journalists since Xi Jinping became the country’s leader four years ago, complicating efforts to parse Beijing’s thinking at a time when its slowing economy and growing global ambitions are making it increasingly important to the world," Ian Johnson reported Thursday for the New York Times. "A report released on Thursday by PEN America, a writers’ group based in New York, tries to quantify how difficult it has become for journalists to get the facts out of China. . . ."

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