A quiet workaholic who, during the 2000 presidential election recount, earned the nickname "Iron Pants" for long stints in the anchor's chair, Lester Holt has long had a key role at NBC. But Holt's break came when the career of his friend Brian Williams tanked due to journalistic fabrication.
Holt had been the anchor of NBC's weekend Nightly News program since 2007. He joined MSNBC in 2000 after working for 14 years at a news radio station in Chicago.
For nearly a decade, Holt had a steady role at NBC. He also anchored Dateline and weekend Today editions. So when NBC found Williams had fabricated facts about stories he reported in Iraq, Holt stepped in to fill the shoes of the former Nightly News anchor. He officially became the Nightly News host in June 2015.
Now, with a year behind NBC's biggest desk on a show with nine million viewers, Holt will anchor the first presidential debates between two of the most truth-challenged presidential candidates in modern history.
Since the first televised presidential debates, between Richard Nixon and John F. Kennedy, the matchup between the top candidates has produced many memorable moments for voters. In the last election, President Barack Obama's campaign was thrown into disarray by his poor performance in the first debate. But Obama went on the offensive against Mitt Romney in subsequent debates and recovered.
Tens of millions of Americans tune into the debates. But given the heightened interest in this year's election, the first debate on Sept. 26 could draw viewing numbers not seen in many years.
And this year, Holt will be under extra scrutiny given the nature of Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump. Clinton has been widely criticized for not being transparent about her email server. And Trump lies consistently in his attacks on Clinton and in his defense of his record.
One NBC anchor has already faced steep criticism for his handling of both candidates. Today host Matt Lauer was given poor reviews — including from his bosses — for his failure to fact-check Trump at a recent forum. All four debate moderators are TV journalists who other reporters worry cannot handle Trump and Clinton.
But Holt may buck this trend. In June, he hit Trump in a Nightly News interview for the self-described billionaire's failure to back up his attacks on Clinton. Holt pressed Trump to provide evidence that Clinton's email server had been hacked. Earlier that month, Holt also pressed Bernie Sanders to acknowledge the mathematical impossibility the Vermont Senator would become president. And the low-key Holt is not a TV anchor whose mistakes that routinely appear in late night television skits.
Holt is the first minority journalist to host a presidential debate since Carole Simpson in 2008. He is originally from the Bay Area in California and reportedly makes several million dollars annually at NBC.