The Clinton Surrogate in Moderator’s Clothes

Lester Holt dropped all pretense of impartiality, targeting Trump with questions, fact checks, interruptions and more

In his first performance as a debate moderator, NBC News’ Lester Holt flubbed his job, political observers told LifeZette after the first presidential debate Monday.

Responses from Trump supporters and even neutral observers on Twitter and on the airwaves were brutally critical of Holt’s job performance.

“[Holt] pressed Trump on his taxes and ignored Hillary’s high-priced speeches that she won’t release.”

“I guess we know who he’s voting for,” said Tucker Carlson, a Fox News pundit and co-founder of The Daily Caller, in an email to LifeZette.

It appeared to many that Holt caved to pressure from Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton’s supporters and liberal pundits to focus on Republican Donald Trump.

“The Left and the media both got what they wanted, a one-sided debate with Lester Holt pushing Trump hard on questions and largely letting Hillary skate on everything,” said Dan Gainor, vice president of Business and Culture for the Media Research Center. “He pressed Trump on his taxes and ignored Hillary’s high-priced speeches that she won’t release. He even asked Trump about what he meant about Hillary not looking the part of president — in the context of her becoming ‘the first woman nominated for president by a major party.’ Holt was the reliable liberal that conservatives knew he would be.”

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It was a conclusion that Trump supporters and Republicans hoped they would not have to make. But observers said Holt likely caved into constant badgering by the Clinton campaign before the debate.

Some of that badgering was done through the media before the debate.

“All that we’re asking is that if Donald Trump lies, that it’s pointed out,” campaign manager Robby Mook  told ABC News’ “This Week” on Sunday. “It’s unfair to ask that Hillary Clinton both play traffic cop with Trump … and also present her vision for what she wants to do for the American people.”

Holt apparently heard Mook loud and clear, and didn’t ask Clinton about major scandals and issues such as the Clinton Foundation; her paid speeches before Goldman Sachs; her job performance on Benghazi, Libya, on Sept. 11, 2012; and more.

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He also let Donald Trump twist in the wind on the issue of supporting the Iraq War in 2003. Clinton actually voted for the war in 2003, then tracked back over the years to harshly criticize President George W. Bush on his war performance.

Holt also spun the issue of the economy under President Obama. Holt painted a rosy picture on jobs and income growth, while admitting Clinton’s favorite economic issues — such as income inequality — are indeed still an issue after almost eight years of Obama.

“I was somewhat optimistic before the debate that Lester Holt would be a fair and balanced moderator, but instead he appeared to have listened to the Clinton camp’s complaints that she would be treated harsher than Trump as he spent more time questioning Trump’s claims than Clinton’s during the evening,” said Don Irvine, chairman of Accuracy in Media. “He became her real-time fact checker and gets a generous grade of C from me for his performance.  In my opinion, he also did a poor job of keeping the candidates on topic and on time.”

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Holt’s critics said he gave in to Clinton’s efforts to “work the referee.” One observer said the media, too, pressured Holt.

“Lester Holt clearly heard the cries of his colleagues in the liberal media to be tough on Trump and ease up on Hillary loud and clear,” said Brent Bozell, the president of Media Research Center, in a release. “Holt continually challenged, fact checked, and interrupted Trump and not once challenged Hillary. Holt pounded Trump repeatedly on the birth certificate controversy, his position on Iraq, his tax returns, and whether or not Hillary looked presidential.”

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Clinton is a skilled debater, and used her skills. But observers said Trump seemed to be facing two opponents.

“In basketball terms, she controlled the ball,” said Howard Kurtz, the Fox News media analyst, while talking to Megyn Kelly on Fox News after the debate. “She also had some help from Lester Holt … I don’t think there’s any question about it.”

Holt even showed bias on the petty stuff during the debate. He scolded Trump’s supporters for applauding, then allowed Clinton’s fans to do so repeatedly. By the end of the debate, likely sick of the double standard, Trump supporters began to cheer without fear. By then, it was too late.

NBC News, the partner of MSNBC, has long been distrusted by conservatives. Holt’s persistent badgering of Trump is likely to make NBC News and MSNBC the favorite TV news department for the Right to hate. Some observers see an end to media-moderated debates.

“This is a great example of why the media may well lose their standing to have any involvement in future debates,” said Gainor.

meet the author

Political reporter, LifeZette. Indiana University journalism grad. Boston U. business grad. Former Indiana, Alabama statehouse reporter, Daytona Beach editorial writer.

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