I love Lester Holt. Sure, he may not be Brian Williams, with all his ineffable charm and Clooney-esque eye sparkle, but I trust him to deliver me the nightly news in the bland and middle-of-the-road fashion I’ve come to expect from NBC. His nightly news segment is analogous to mashed potatoes, comforting and not the worst thing for you, but certainly lacking in a lot of key nutrients. Will NBC Nightly news tell you about the current situation in Mosul? Perhaps, but they will also give equal if not greater airtime to an old woman who’s dedicating her time to painting a mural at the local YMCA. Does it touch my heart and make me feel good inside? Obviously. But is it the nightly national news’ job to give us these personal interest stories when it could be informing us of actual current events? I don’t think so.
So, NBC’s decision to make Lester Holt moderator of the presidential debate gave me pause halfway through my approving head nod. Sure, he’s good, but can he handle the circus that would be the first debate between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump? On one side, a woman with an intimidating wealth of national and international policy experience, and on the other a man who will say literally anything that pops into his mind. If Gary Johnson were there to provide a degree of comic ignorance, what with his ignorance of Aleppo and his belief that global warming is largely unimportant because one day the sun will swallow the Earth, I might have had a bit more confidence in Lester. But he wasn’t, and everyone expected something ugly to happen.
Which, rather unsurprisingly, it did. Undeniably on the side of Trump. I don’t care who you’re voting for, belligerently shouting “wrong” in the middle of someone’s speech is simply an artless comeback. Clinton could have been claiming fluoride is added to the water to keep the population subdued; he’d still look like a petulant child interrupting after so many times. It’s not strength, it’s stupidity. Not that I want to give too much credit to Clinton’s speaking abilities; her wooden, constructed demeanor again made me pine longingly for President Obama’s Al Greene impression. We’ll miss you, Barry. But at least Clinton never got close to the sort of temper tantrums Trump demonstrated.
And what did NBC and Lester Holt do about this devolution? Not a whole lot. A few ineffectual pleas to keep it short and move on. Which obviously Trump did not follow. I almost began to feel bad for Lester. It was just a little too easy to shut him down. I appreciate his efforts to correct Trump when he blatantly denied claiming China fabricated global warming (isn’t it comforting that so many political candidates give our environment such serious consideration?), but this was the exception to the night, not the rule. In any case, it clearly wasn’t effective.
Now, I understand the importance of having a moderator who does not pick fights with the candidates or shout over them. I want to watch the candidates debate, not the moderator. However, they have to do more than Lester did. The media cannot continue to let any politician steamroll them or get away with false information. If that means pinning Trump’s or for that matter Hillary’s ears back, then do it. If they speak too long and ignore the moderator’s call for moving on, then cut their mic. What respect do we owe them when they are so comfortable lying to us, or when they ignore the rules of the debate? Why are we so content to just shrug our shoulders and say “oh well, that’s politics?” Hold them accountable. They are petitioning us for the job of president, not the other way around.
As such, I firmly believe we should let comedians moderate the debate. I simply do not believe that current news anchors have the ability to handle such an election. Lester, God love him, proved this. They’re used to handling hecklers, they can certainly handle politicians. I’ve been far more satisfied watching a late night pundit interview a candidate than I have a prime time news anchor. Imagine Stephen Colbert, Craig Ferguson or Trevor Noah moderating? Hell, let Eric Andre do it. Because if NBC continues to do nothing about this political incivility, we may as well complete the circle and make the whole thing one big joke.
Soren Malpass is a senior in the College of Arts and Sciences. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Sorenity Now appears alternate Thursdays this semester.