Lester Holt Receives The Media Institute’s 2022 Freedom of Speech Award

By A.J. Katz 

Another month, another honor for Lester Holt.

On Wednesday, the longtime NBC Newser and Nightly News/Dateline anchor received the 2022 Freedom of Speech Award from The Media Institute.

Holt’s colleague at NBC, Harry Smith introduced the evening news anchor at The Media Institute’s annual Free Speech America gala, which was held virtually this year.


“Some years back when I worked at CBS, I used to cover a lot of breaking news. Big stories, disasters, earth quakes, hurricanes,” remarked Smith. “More than a couple of times I found myself on the same plane with people from NBC News and with them, inevitably, was Lester. Lester has that thing in him, what Mike Wallace once described to me as this. ‘Harry,’ he said. ‘I’m like the dalmatian dog at the fire house. When the alarm goes off I jump on the truck, no matter what.’ That’s Lester.”

Holt discussed anchoring Nightly News in 2022, telling the virtual audience, “Part of our mission each day as a broadcast is to elevate the national dialogue. Of course, centered on facts, but also on stories that take you there and offer perspective,” Holt told attendees, virtually. “Stories, that, if we can lower our shields a bit, make people think hard about their world view, or at least understand the complexity of issues, and why others may think differently.”

On the importance of news literacy, particularly among young people, Holt added, “Freedom of speech can be more than freedom to be the loudest voice on the soap box. It can also be freedom to listen. Freedom to be critical thinkers. That is why I am a big advocate of news literacy efforts that are aimed at helping, especially younger viewers, to process what they are hearing and seeing. And recognizing mis and disinformation for what it is.  Promoting critical thinking skills can be the safety net of a free and independent press.”

Holt wasn’t the only media figure honored by The Media Institute this year. Iconic documentary filmmaker Ken Burns received the American Horizon award.

Previous Freedom of Speech award recipients include Norah O’Donnell (2021) and Chris Wallace (2018). Rupert Murdoch received the American Horizon Award in 2010.