Lester Holt knows what it is to be on center stage. But the anchor of Dateline NBC and the network’s Today show takes over this evening in what will feel like an especially white-hot light as Brian Williams’ stand-in as anchor of the weeknight edition of NBC Nightly News. The network’s news credibility is on the line in the wake of Williams’ recent admission of not telling the truth about his coverage of the invasion of Iraq when he was an embedded correspondent in 2003.
Viewers are familiar with Holt as anchor of the weekend version of NBC Nightly News, but who is he and what credibility does he bring to Williams’ role?
In 2010, The Christian Chronicle published an interesting profile of Holt in 2010 titled “Anchor for His Soul” and in 2012, he was presented with an honorary doctorate by Pepperdine University.
Holt is a devout Christian and longtime member of the Manhattan Church of Christ near New York City, a melting pot of a congregation supplanted by a steady stream of Abilene Christian University graduates through the years. The late Dr. Burton Coffman (’27) was the minister from 1954-71, when it raised $2 million to build that congregation’s home at East 80th Street and Madison Avenue: the first constructed specifically for a Church of Christ in New York County.
Today, the staff includes longtime senior minister and elder Dr. Thomas Robinson (’61) and Jason Isbell (’97), associate minister for children and youth.
Holt was an MSNBC anchor when featured in ACU’s Centennial Speaker Series on Dec. 1, 2005, just three months after covering Hurricane Katrina’s devastation in New Orleans and nearby cities on the Gulf of Mexico. An excerpt of his speech that night provides insight into what makes him tick:
“It is particularly timely that you would invite me here this evening to talk about faith and the media, because ultimately, Hurricane Katrina is very much a story about the power of faith and the power of the media.
We all witnessed people who had lost most, if not all, of their material possessions, and they looked into the TV cameras and […] they declare their thankfulness to God that they and their families survived. And they expressed a faith that they’ll be OK, and they’ll overcome this cruel blow – ‘I have what matters.’ I heard that time and time again. And you know, what I didn’t hear very often was ‘Why me?’ And I kind of looked at those people and I thought ‘You know, I’m not sure I wouldn’t be saying ‘Why me?’ because this is awfully bad.’
Then there were the mainstream news media. My profession. And so often in my profession, we allow ourselves to be these dispassionate observers of life’s events. But this time, in this instant, we asserted ourselves, a forceful advocate for the helpless and the forgotten. Showing the pictures of the stranded, [in] some cases the dying, shining the lights on a shameful spectacle. Pictures that forced a massive response that had up to that point been lacking. But enough patting on the back. There’s a lot of work to be done. The focus, of course, [is] on making sure the government doesn’t fail the Katrina victims again.
… There’s a lot to like about what I do for a living. As a network television anchor and correspondent, I get to meet and interview famous people, I get to travel to interesting and exotic places, and simply be in the know. But when people ask me what I appreciate most about what I do, I tell them this: ‘It’s the insight I get into how fragile life is.’ To understand how tenuous our existence and [the] lives that we lead are.
I have witnessed a man face his execution for his heinous crime. I have stood among the shallow graves of famine victims. I’ve wept at the sight of dying children because of something that’s so foreign and bizarre to us: a lack of food. I’ve seen life turn on a dime, the tragic and sudden death. I see triumph. I see the mighty fall, the humble become a roaring lion. It is an amazing vantage point in life to be a reporter.
But more often than not, I see a moment not unlike Katrina that forces people to take stock of what they have and what really matters.”