Holt never quite managed to ask: All in all, we'll agree with Isaac Chotiner. Lester Holt didn't knock it out of the park, but he also wasn't a world-class clown.
Given the way our press corps functions, that was a bit of a triumph.
(Chotiner: "Holt’s performance, like Hillary Clinton’s, was not a total knockout. But like Clinton’s, it was more than adequate. And in a year like this one, that counts as a victory for a beleaguered press corps.")
That said, we were struck by the several questions Lester Holt failed to ask. This is part of a wider observation concerning the remarkable lack of journalistic skill within our celebrity press corps.
The first question that didn't get asked? It concerned Trump's five-year reign as King of the Birthers.
Holt did raise the topic, of course. He started off like this:
HOLT (9/26/16): Mr. Trump, for five years, you perpetuated a false claim that the nation's first black president was not a natural-born citizen. You questioned his legitimacy. In the last couple of weeks, you acknowledged what most Americans have accepted for years: The president was born in the United States. Can you tell us what took you so long?To peruse the whole transcript, click here.
Holt almost asked the obvious question. Why did Trump keep promulgating his bogus claim so long? More precisely, why did he keep playing birther games even after Obama released his "long-form" birth certificate in 2011?
In his "answer" to Holt's first question, Trump wandered the countryside. He made false claims about what Patti Solis Doyle, a former Clinton aide, recently said on CNN. More generally, he threw up handfuls of gorilla dust, creating balls of confusion.
Eventually, Holt broke in for another try. This time, his question was a bit more precise. He also made a bit of a factual error:
HOLT: I will let you respond. It's important. But I just want to get the answer here. The birth certificate was produced in 2011. You've continued to tell the story and question the president's legitimacy in 2012, '13, '14, '15, as recently as January. So the question is, what changed your mind?In fact, Obama released his official birth certificate in June 2008. That was the so-called "short form" birth certificate. It's the official way a Hawaiian-born person proves his place of birth. (The so-called long-form document is no longer used.)
There was never any reason to doubt what that official document showed. But so what? Like so many other stars, Holt made it sound like Obama didn't release proof of his birth until 2011, when he released the so-called "long form" document.
This suggestion fits the Trump story line, according to which the marvelous Trump finally forced Obama to give us proof of his birth. Given the way our TV stars work, we'll assume that Holt didn't know about the original release of the official document back in 2008.
Let's set that blunder to the side. The bigger problem involves Trump's refusal to answer Holt's basic question, which the lumbering multimillionaire star never quite managed to state.
Here's the basic question, the question Holt never quite asked:
According to Trump, he forced Obama to release the certificate in 2011, thereby settling the issue. Why then did he keep saying and suggesting that the matter hadn't been settled right through January of this year?
Trump never answered that question, and Holt never made him. Indeed, Holt never even managed to state that question straight out.
Trump's story doesn't make any sense, but so what? Holt lacked the skill, the smarts or the nerve to pose that basic question to Trump:
If you solved the problem in 2011, why did you keep playing birther games right through the start of this year?
Alas! Our major, multimillionaire "journalists" possess almost no journalistic skills. To all appearances, it has been so long since they actually tried to nail down a fact they have no earthly idea how to go about it.
Lester Holt failed to ask the key question about Trump's birther reign. He let Trump wander all about, then moved on to a new topic.
Holt also failed to ask the key question about Trump's refusal to release his income taxes. Here you see the other dog which haplessly failed to bark:
Why don't you release your past income tax forms, the ones from the years preceding your current audit?
That may be the world's most obvious question. Holt never managed to ask.
It's hard to tell when our stars are acting in good faith. In truth, they seem to have few journalistic skills. Those muscles disappeared long ago.
But beyond that, they tend to be a bit on the cowardly side, except when pimping approved story-lines. We'd have to say that, as a group, they aren't obsessively honest.