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With Brian Williams Out, NBC Turns to Lester Holt to Shoulder Nightly News


Last Friday, embattled anchor Brian Williams announced he was taking a leave of absence from NBC Nightly News, the show he shepherded to #1 and which has established him as arguably the face of his networks’ news division.

Those accomplishments are now imperiled by Williams’ admission that he had exaggerated a story of being attacked in a helicopter in Baghdad in 2003. After an on-air apology last week failed to halt the pile-on, Williams retreated, and NBC turned to its pinch hitter of more than a decade: Lester Holt. Holt will be sitting in Williams’ anchor chair Monday night, and NBC News, loathe to fire its top star, needs him to shoulder both the show’s ratings and its integrity until Williams is rehabilitated.

Holt, who came up through local newscasting and reporting in L.A. and Chicago, has served as the anchor for NBC Nightly News on the weekends since 2007, in addition to co-hosting on weekend editions of Today and hosting NBC Dateline. Holt has been NBC’s all-purpose understudy for over ten years, having filled in for Matt Lauer or Tom Brokaw before he became Williams’ go-to backup; he substituted for Williams at the anchor desk after the latter underwent knee surgery in 2013.

Neither is Holt a stranger to working from the field, earning accolades for his reporting for NBC from New Orleans during Hurricane Katrina. Just a few weeks ago he live-tweeted the hostage situation that unfolded in a Parisian grocery store following the Charlie Hebdo attack:

But Holt is also well-versed in the celebrity component of the anchor job, which many feel is what led Williams astray. (It’s not Williams’ original reporting being scrutinized, but his promotion of it on late night shows and the like.) Holt was part of the “Brian Williams Raps the News” bits on The Tonight Show, which have been instrumental in building Williams’ extra-newsman brand:

Holt also plays bass, both electric and upright, and hops in on soundchecks for bands visiting the Today show. Watch him below playing with The Roots on the NBC Nightly News theme song:

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Now Holt’s job is to maintain the newscast’s credibility in the hopes that Williams can salvage his, a job that requires less of the affability he and Williams have displayed on other programs and more of the hard news that both men were ostensibly promoting. Lester inaugurated this task Saturday night, when he reported himself on Williams’ temporary departure. NBC hopes he’ll soon be announcing Williams’ return:

[Image via screengrab]

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