Lester & Stefan Holt: Carrying On A TV News Tradition

 

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You knew this was going to happen, didn’t you?

Stefan Holt, reporter and anchor for NBC-owned WMAQ in Chicago for the past five years, is moving East to join the flagship, WNBC in New York, where he’ll anchor the 4:00pm local newscast. Working inside the famous 30 Rockefeller Plaza, Stefan will toil just down the hall from his dad Lester Holt who recently completed his first year as anchor of NBC Nightly News.

Although he’s only 29, Stefan’s no rookie. He studied journalism at Pepperdine University in Southern California, interned at the ABC station in Los Angeles and the NBC bureau in London, then spent two years at WPBF in West Palm Beach, Florida before arriving at WMAQ in 2011.

Most of us not in Chicago or West Palm got our first look at the younger Holt during this cute “Hi, Dad” moment that went viral back in March of 2015:

I don’t care, that’s just plain sweet. So was Lester’s Tweet celebrating his son’s promotion to New York:

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As interesting as it will be to watch the father/son Holtfest play out at 30 Rock, it’s hardly a unique situation. Apparently the TV news bug runs in families, and more than a few talented, telegenic kids have followed a parent into the business. Here are some more:

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Mike Wallace, of course, held forth at CBS for an incredible 40 years as the merciless interrogator on 60 Minutes. Chris Wallace went from local WNBC to NBC News in Washington to ABC News and finally to FOX where he is today. Chris says the father/son relationship was strained at times. But he also said this, when the elder Wallace passed away in 2012:

“My dad was everything you saw on television: fascinating and funny, challenging and exasperating.  He was the best reporter I have ever known.  And while work often came first for him, over the last 20 years, he worked hard to make connections with his family.  He became my best friend.  And at the end, he was surrounded by children, grandchildren and even great-grandchildren.  I already miss him terribly.”

And yes, from time to time the Wallaces appeared on camera together, especially when Mike would be on a book tour: Now it was Chris asking the tough questions:

While we’re on 60 Minutes, here’s a 2-generation combo that’s less well-known:

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Of course we know Andy Rooney as the rumpled, grandfatherly guy who waxed irritable for 33 years on life’s quirkiness. But long before his on-camera career, Rooney was renowned as a gifted writer. His son Brian Rooney inherited that love of words, a skill he put to full use as an ABC News correspondent for two decades, and for several years in Los Angeles on KCET’s SoCal Connected, where I was privileged to work with him. When his father passed, Brian remembered him this way (sorry, CBS won’t permit an embed):

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By the way, Andy Rooney’s daughter (Brian’s sister) Emily is a longtime PBS host in Boston.

Going back a few more years, there’s Garrick Utley, veteran correspondent for NBC, ABC, CNN and PBS.

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Garrick claims a double pedigree. His dad Clifton (David Brinkley once mistakenly referred to Garrick on the air as “Cliff”) did radio and TV in the 1940s and ’50s. There’s a very small bit of the elder Utley in Garrick’s 2014 obit on NBC:

I did say “double” pedigree. Garrick’s mother Frayn Utley hosted a CBS radio program in 1940 and 1941, stepped away from it to raise Garrick and his siblings, then returned to the air in 1953, taking over Clifton’s radio and TV shows after he had a stroke.

While we’re talking about moms, two other pioneering women journalists produced a couple of precocious offspring:

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Nancy Dickerson was the first female member of the Washington TV news corps. First for CBS and then for NBC she rose above the all-male environment to become one of the most plugged-in journalists covering presidents Kennedy, Johnson and Nixon. As a child, her son John, the new host of Face The Nation, didn’t know much about his mom’s career because she’d left the national spotlight by the time he was old enough to understand anything about the news business. But going through her papers after she passed in 1997, John learned a great deal, which he put into a book, On Her Trail. 

A few months ago, when John succeeded Bob Schieffer on Face The Nation, Jane Pauley did a beautiful profile of mother and son:

While Nancy Dickerson was breaking barriers in D.C., the mother of CNN Legal Analyst and New Yorker contributor Jeffrey Toobin was doing much the same:

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Marlene Sanders was the first woman to anchor a network TV newscast. She was also the first network TV female journalist to report from Vietnam and the first female vice-president of a news division. Rather than curate a bunch of photos and video about her, I’ll just point you to Toobin’s 2012 New Yorker tribute, My Mom, Top Journalist. (Note: Toobin says his mother “now teaches journalism at NYU.” Sanders died in July 2015.)

But wait, there’s more!

Back in the late 1960s the ABC Evening News was anchored by two world-class journalists, Frank Reynolds (r) and Howard K. Smith (l).

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Each produced a son who followed in his footsteps:

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Like his father, Dean Reynolds spent more than two decades at ABC News, covering every conceivable beat from politics to the Pentagon to the Persian Gulf. Since 2007 he’s done similarly stellar work at CBS News.

The son of Howard K. Smith made his television debut in a very unexpected place.

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You may recognize the image on the right. Jack Smith appeared regularly on ABC’s This Week With David Brinkley, providing the opening overview package that set the tone for the rest of the program. If you closed your eyes during one of Jack’s reports, you heard his father’s voice, it was uncanny.

But look at the image on the left.

That’s Army Specialist Jack Smith in Vietnam decades earlier. He was wounded in the infamous ambush at Ia Drang Valley in 1965, and he was lucky. 93 percent of his unit was killed.

Notice the microphone in the lower right corner? It’s almost certainly being held by Jack’s father. Howard K. Smith went to Vietnam in 1966 and interviewed his soldier son for an ABC News special, Vietnam Report: A Father, A Son And A War (I searched high and low for video but couldn’t find any. This IMDB page has more details about the program.)

When he was interviewed for Emmy TV Legends, the elder Smith recalled hearing that Jack had been hurt:

The normally unflappable Jack Smith returned to Ia Drang for a 1993 ABC special, and he found the memories to be overwhelming.

There have been many others I’m sure, including Luke Russert, who began reporting for NBC after the passing of his father, Tim Russert.

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I’m also sure this list would be much longer if we looked at local stations around the country, as well as all the hardworking professionals behind the scenes.

Here’s the bottom line.

In talking about his son, Lester Holt repeatedly points out Stefan’s “passion for news” which emerged at a very young age. That’s no accident, and perhaps that’s key. Regardless of all its excesses and criticism, news is a noble profession. It’s the Truth Business. It’s the kind of profession that demands passion, and when a parent has it, it’s very likely a child will notice. Kids don’t follow in their parents’ footsteps because it’s “cool” or “looks like fun.” They see something they admire and want a piece of it. And it’s heartwarming to realize that in some quarters, the passion for journalism is still admired and passed down to the next generation.

So, best of luck to you, Stefan. Make the old man proud.