Lester Holt: Despite ‘Awkward’ Situation, He and Brian Williams Are Still Friends

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Lester Holt.Photo: Noam Galai/2014 Noam Galai

On Monday night Lester Holt made his debut as permanent anchor of NBC Nightly News, and he marked the occasion by talking with just about every news outlet, from The Wall Street Journal to Adweek to People. In his first comments on the scandal that made him the first African-American solo anchor on a major network’s evening news broadcast, Holt revealed that he “wasn’t being told anything” while he was filling in for Brian Williams over the past four months. “For lack of a better term, there was a ‘firewall’ between me and all that. I accepted that my role was to fill in for six months, and there were never any discussions [with NBC executives] about where or what this all might lead to — so I tried to keep my head down,” Holt told the Daily News. “There were times that I tried not to read anything that was written about this whole situation, so of course I read everything,” he added. “At some point I didn’t know what to believe, but ultimately it kept coming back to keeping my head focused on the broadcast.”

The strategy paid off: The show’s ratings have held steady, and before heading to Europe for vacation last week Holt was told that Williams was heading to MSNBC, and Nightly News was his.

Holt said he exchanged a few emails with Williams during his suspension, and the two finally had a face-to-face meeting last Thursday, as Williams embarked on his “apology tour.” “It was a conversation that we both had been craving but didn’t know how to initiate,” Holt said. “The bottom line is that we expressed our friendship to each other. We acknowledged that while some might see this as awkward, nothing that has transpired was between the two of us. We are friends and the best way to characterize it is that Brian and I are good.” He told the New York Times he “had no issues” with Williams staying at the network, saying, “From the very beginning of this, I told myself that I am not his judge.”

But he is planning to make some changes to the role of Nightly News anchor. While Holt has played bass with the Roots on the Tonight show and dressed up as a Blues Brother with Al Roker, according to the Times, he’s “not expected to become a regular on the entertainment circuit,” the site of many of Williams’s exaggerations. Hopefully Matt Lauer knows how to slow-jam the news.