Opinion: As a journalist, Holt failed us

Commentary by Peter Funt

Before taking his seat at Monday night’s presidential debate, Lester Holt confided to the audience in the hall that his knees were shaking. Ninety minutes later, shaky would be an overly kind way to describe Holt’s performance as moderator. Putting aside any judgment of which candidate fared better, or how the event might affect voters’ opinions, Holt faced one of the most difficult tasks in modern journalism and came up short. Holt asked 14 questions (plus a few interjections and short follow-ups). Of those, seven were generic, policy-based inquiries, asked of both candidates. Six were specifically directed at Donald Trump, regarding things he has said and done. Only one such specific question, and a gentle one at that, was asked of Hillary Clinton. Journalistically, that’s not even close to the standard trashed regularly by Fox News: fair and balanced. How the respected anchorman managed to fumble as he did is not particularly mysterious. Following sharp criticism of his NBC colleague Matt Lauer in the so-called “Commander-in-Chief” one-on-one, where Lauer challenged Clinton repeatedly while allowing Trump to get away with distortions, Holt was determined to be different. “No one knows tonight’s questions other than Lester Holt,” the audience was assured in advance. Maybe that’s asking too much. Despite the pressure on Holt to push a few hot buttons, he would have been wiser to stick with basic policy issues and, for what would have been the first time in this tedious campaign, leave the tabloid questions to the cable shows. The next event uses a “town hall” format, with two moderators, so it is likely that prospects for a real debate are dim. This time, though, the nice guy finished last.

Copyright 2016, Peter Funt, writer and author. Column distributed exclusively by Cagle Cartoons, Inc., newspaper syndicate. Funt may be reached at www.candidcamera.com.