Lester Holt faces his biggest challenge before 100 million people
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In 2000, Lester Holt was an ascending anchor-reporter at Chicago's WBBM-TV, the CBS owned-station, when the last-place mess demoted him from the key 10 p.m. anchor perch.
Some colleagues from back then say he was the scapegoat du jour. Tonight, they and perhaps 100 million others will watch him moderate the first presidential debate. Not bad for a guy who hosted “The Bermuda Triangle: Startling New Secrets” on the Sci-Fi Channel in 2005.
Holt wound up at MSNBC and rose to be Brian Williams' replacement on "NBC Nightly News." That was an accident amid Williams' ethical travail. But it's no accident that the presidential debates commission selected him to be moderator tonight, even if not everyone agrees what he should do if faced with blatant lies, especially from Donald Trump.
Carol Marin, a prominent Chicago reporter-anchor who worked with him says, "The best advice I ever got is the same I would give: Listen carefully and be ready to depart from prepared questions if/when the candidate says something that cries out for follow-up."
Holt is in a bind, whatever he does, especially with the media's born-again fascination with fact-checking. He'll perhaps be chided for either being too soft or too harsh. "No matter what he does, he'll get hammered," said Joe Scarborough this morning. "Nobody will be happy no matter what he does."
Moderators have been given a thankless task, said Mike McCurry, the former Clinton White House spokesman who teaches at Wesley Theological Seminary in Washington and is co-chairman of the presidential debate commission.
"Keep control, encourage the candidates to 'fact-check' each other without getting in the way, but step in if prevarication proliferates," McCurry said.
The priorities of a moderator are sometimes at odds with those of a journalist, said Craig LaMay, associate dean at what is formally the Medill School of Journalism, Media and Integrated Marketing Communication.
"Journalists should of course not neglect any candidate's attempts to be disingenuous or worse, but that's not the moderator's job in a debate," LaMay said.
The activist-moderator notion falls prey to the risk of having a three-way debate, which Trump, or many other candidates, might well like, he said. It's prompted by Trump's many falsehoods and has driven some smart folks to say the Jim Lehrer model of moderating has to be jumped.
Tiny example: Bloomberg's Mark Halperin this morning pressed Trump campaign manager Kellyanne Conway on "Morning Joe" about Trump saying Holt is a Democrat when, in fact, he's a Republican. She ducked it and preferred talking about unnamed campaign press "who slander our candidate" on Twitter.
The race is tightening, with CNN polling this morning underscoring Trump rising — now actually ahead — in Colorado and Pennsylvania. It's the real backdrop for, as LaMay puts it, our "Weimar moment, and giving Trump a platform to speak to the nation unchallenged is an abdication of professional responsibility."
Wenner sells big chunk of Rolling Stone
"After a five-decade run full of interviews with pop stars and presidents, the founder of Rolling Stone is selling 49 percent of the iconic magazine to an Asian billionaire’s son. It’s the first time Wenner has admitted an outside investor, a deal that encapsulates the plight of an industry fighting to stay relevant in an online age." (Bloomberg)
A great life cut short
The death of baseball phenom Jose Fernandez "is to baseball what Buddy Holly’s was to rock and what James Dean’s was to movies, the sudden stripping away of a precocious performer who was already one of the best and probably had even better ahead of him."
"At moments like these — not that there have been many, or any, moments like these involving athletes with Fernández’s combination of youth, accomplishment, and charisma — we struggle to decide what we could or should say. We want to express our pain, but we’re aware that the loss others have experienced makes our own pale in comparison." (The Ringer)
A long life in full
"Of Mr. Palmer’s mass appeal, golf writer Dan Jenkins once noted: 'Arnold Palmer did not play golf, we thought. He nailed up beams, reupholstered sofas, repaired air conditioning units. He was the most immeasurable of all golf champions.'" (The Washington Post) "'Television and Palmer took over golf simultaneously,' Jim Murray, The Times' Pulitzer Prize-winning sports columnist, once wrote." (Los Angeles Times)
The debate as lie detector
"Pollsters cannot cite a time when two presidential nominees have approached a debate holding such little public confidence in their propensity to tell the truth." (Inside Sources) "And there may be no modern precedent for the televised encounter of two American candidates creating an urgent new medium: The debate as lie detector."
Could it work? Here's what PolitiFact editor Angie Holan would do if she had a magic wand. "My ideal is that after each segment you let fact-checkers come up for 15 minutes and let the moderators ask follow-up questions based on that." (Poynter)
Stop with the caricatures, folks
Paul Farhi is on the mark, even if perhaps tilting at windmills in Quixote-like fashion. "I’m writing because I have a request: Please stop calling us 'the media.' Yes, in some sense, we are the media. But not in the blunt way you use the phrase. It’s so imprecise and generic that it has lost any meaning. It’s — how would you put this? — lazy and unfair." (The Washington Post)
The morning chatter
"Fox & Friends" had the Hofstra band serenading them with "Sweet Caroline" in the morning dark before going to Trump campaign reporter John Roberts and, second, Clinton reporter Mike Emanuel. CNN's "New Day" offered a 6 a.m. Eastern panel of one, two, three, four, five, six, yes, seven people. David Gregory argued it's all about "imagining who can be president." If a fair number of doubters can imagine Trump in the role, it's a "game changer," claimed CNN political editor David Chalian.
On MSNBC's "Morning Joe," Al Hunt wondered what's hyped more: Clinton v. Trump or the Pitt-Jolie breakup? He finds very few "persuadables" around and figures not many minds are likely to be changed tonight.
A reporter freestyles with Lin-Manuel Miranda
It's true — I was there. Friday night, Lin-Manuel Miranda was interviewed on stage at Chicago's Lyric Opera by Chicago Tribune theater critic Chris Jones. "After agreeing to Jones' request that he freestyle for the audience, Miranda revealed his rule that if a reporter asks him to freestyle, he requires said reporter to beatbox. 'You're going down with me,' the composer joked before launching into a rap based on cue cards provided by Jones, which covered some of Chicago's most popular cultural touchstones, from the Cubs to Oprah." (Broadway World) Yes, Jones did beatbox.
A melancholy read
McClatchy's Kevin Hall chronicled Jocelyn Benoit, "one of thousands of Haitians stuck in Brazil, where many headed after the island’s 2010 earthquake. They withstood arduous journeys across Andean high plains and Amazonian jungles to reach Brazil — only to find themselves a few years later in a worse economic situation than the one they fled." (Miami Herald)
Marketers, media, beware
"Marketers who have been pouring huge sums into digital advertising are wrestling with several recent events that add to a troubling picture: some are finding they can’t be sure how well that money was spent or what they’ve received in return for it." (The Wall Street Journal)
Trump and the generals
A smart piece in Vox on Trump's errant assumptions about ISIS, in particular that The Obama-led Pentagon has been feckless in dealing with terrorism: "He’s wrong. But the way in which he’s wrong is telling. The Republican presidential nominee has surrounded himself with retired generals whose extremely hard-line views about how to battle the terror group make them much more hawkish than the officers who are still serving — and would have to oversee the actual fighting." (Vox)
The New York Times editorial endorsement of Hillary Clinton will not go down as one of the 2016 campaign's surprises. But it did seem a bit early, especially given the newspaper tradition of waiting until near the end to have a smidgen of impact. So I checked. In 2008 it endorsed Barack Obama against John McCain on Oct. 23 (2008), while in 2012 it was Oct. 27 in his re-election bid versus Mitt Romney. (2012)
A Trump thumping
The Times also offered "A Week of Whoppers from Donald Trump." It wasn't an op-ed but news story by beat reporters. "All politicians bend the truth to fit their purposes, including Hillary Clinton. But Donald J. Trump has unleashed a blizzard of falsehoods, exaggerations and outright lies in the general election, peppering his speeches, interviews and Twitter posts with untruths so frequent that they can seem flighty or random — even compulsive." (The New York Times)
We'll leave it to journalism historians down the road, but it's as if some press outlets, chided for being slow on the uptake with Trump, vied for the post-election crown of having been most aggressive in ferreting out deceits. We'll leave it to the presidential historians to determine if it mattered.
A view of Syria from the Middle East
Haaretz, the left-leaning Israeli paper, calls it, "The Murderous Spectacle With No End in Sight." Why? "Russia and the U.S. failed miserably at managing the cease-fire they orchestrated, and are both responsible for the absurd situation now delaying the assault on ISIS' stronghold." (Haaretz)
A grand farewell for Vin Scully
Could you have scripted legendary Los Angeles Dodgers announcer Vin Scully's last homage any better, as the team won its division on a 10th inning homer? Writing before the game, Bill Plaschke said:
"Since the Dodgers arrived here 58 years ago, Scully has spoken almost strictly to us, Angelenos in our cars and in our homes, millions who grew up with his voice in their kitchens and have grown old with it at their bedsides. He is the teacher of our children, the bleacher buddy of our teens, the wise neighbor on our cul-de-sac, and the dear companion of our aging and infirm."
"...Now that Vin Scully is leaving, will that ever feel so true again?" (Los Angeles Times)