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NBC's Lester Holt warns media against giving 'platform for misinformation'

Lester Holt, the anchor of NBC Nightly News, argued this week that news organizations and the journalists they employ should do everything they can to call out misinformation permeating the political media ecosystem and separate facts from falsehoods forcefully to combat that trend. 

"I think it's become clearer that fairness is overrated," Holt said Tuesday as he accepted the Edward R. Murrow Award for Lifetime Achievement in Journalism. "Before you run off and tweet that headline, let me explain a bit. The idea that we should always give two sides equal weight and merit does not reflect the world we find ourselves in. That the sun sets in the west is a fact. Any contrary view does not deserve our time or attention."

Holt referenced "recent events" like the Jan. 6 rioting by supporters of former President TrumpDonald TrumpHarry Reid reacts to Boehner book excerpt: 'We didn't mince words' Man arrested for allegedly threatening to stab undercover Asian officer in NYC Trump says GOP will take White House in 2024 in prepared speech MORE and conspiracy theories that have grown online about the coronavirus pandemic as examples of moments that require journalists to dismiss falsehoods and focus on provable truths. 

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Decisions to not give unsupported arguments equal coverage time "are not a dereliction of journalistic responsibility or some kind of agenda," Holt said. "In fact, it's just the opposite." 

"Providing an open platform for misinformation for anyone to come and say whatever they want, especially when issues of public health and safety are at stake can be quite dangerous," he said. "Our duty is to be fair to the truth ... we need to hear our leaders' views, their policies and reasoning. It's really important. But we have to stand ready to push back and call out falsehoods." 

Holt has served as the anchor of NBC Nightly News since 2015, joining the network in 2000 and working as a weekend anchor and co-host of "Today" and other NBC news programs. 

The anchor spoke about the morphing responsibilities of major media companies to build relationships with their audiences but not let popularity among viewers and readers stand in the way of reporting "uncomfortable truths." 

He acknowledged the sentiment he was expressing about any departure from total objectivity in reporting might "reenforce negative sentiment some hold about journalists." 

"That we have had to be more direct in our language in recent times only speaks to the volume and gravity of particular statements and claims," Holt said. "Fact checking is not a vendetta. We all have a stake in us getting it right."