Chicago on Wednesday will be the third stop for “NBC Nightly News” anchor Lester Holt and his “Across America” broadcast tour, as the show shines a spotlight on Chicago Police Department violence reduction efforts.
Coming, ironically, after a particularly violent weekend that saw nearly 40 people shot during three days of 80-plus degree temperatures, the news show will highlight successes touted by the Chicago Police Department in some of its historically most violent districts.
Holt and his crew last week spent time with police in South Side Englewood, and now return for a full day here that will include the veteran newsman throwing out first pitch at the afternoon White Sox game (vs. the Pittsburgh Pirates). Holt’s evening news program will then broadcast live at 5:30 p.m. from River Point Park, 444 W. Lake.
“We wanted to go out and focus on stories that affect people’s home towns, looking at them through the eyes of a specific community,” the anchor said Tuesday in a Chicago Sun-Times interview covering myriad topics, including recent accusations of sexual harassment against his colleague, anchor Tom Brokaw. Brokaw is accused by a former network correspondent of allegedly groping, assaulting and making repeated unwanted sexual advances toward her. A former production assistant has also alleged he made unwanted sexual advances. All of the allegations have been denied by Brokaw, who anchored “Nightly News” for 22 years.
“I read what you read, and I have no special knowledge. I’m not evading the question,” Holt said when asked about his former colleague. (Another colleague, “Today” show host Matt Lauer, was fired in November following allegations of sexual misconduct). “All I can tell you is that I’ve known Tom for the better part of 18 years. He’s a man of integrity. He’s my friend. He’s my mentor. And I think he’s a standup guy,” asserted Holt. “Beyond that, I can’t offer much.”
Holt, who spent the largest chunk of his career in Chicago before joining the network in 2000, began his five-city tour on Monday in Portland, Oregon, and was calling Tuesday from Colorado. (After Chicago, the tour heads to Pittsburgh on Thursday, ending the tour Friday in Raleigh, N.C.)
“We were in Colorado looking at their experience with marijuana and the rising issue of people driving under the influence — important partly because there’s a lot more communities looking at decriminalizing pot,” said Holt, who in 2015 took over the helm of “Nightly News” after longtime anchor Brian Williams was re-assigned over lapses in news judgment.
“In Chicago, of course, we face a long-term problem with violence on the South Side. But we’re going to tell a good news story about Chicago having some success with lowering gun violence, particularly in the Englewood neighborhood,” Holt said. “Chicago [police] are employing some really terrific technology, from the program called ShotSpotter, to cameras on the streets. And I know they just had a bad weekend, but as your police chief told us, they’re going to have some good days, and they’re going to have some bad days.”
As recently as last month, Superintendent Eddie Johnson was touting significant drops in shootings in some of the city’s toughest districts. Englewood, he said, led with a 56 percent drop in shootings and 43 percent drop in homicides.
Johnson credited ShotSpotter, which identifies where gunfire is coming from, and Strategic Decision Support Centers now in half the districts, where technology is helping CPD determine where best to deploy officers.
“The unique part of this story is that this program came out of the Chicago Police Department partnering with the Los Angeles Police Department. These two police chiefs essentially talk on a weekly basis, because L.A. and Chicago share the same big gang problem and big gun problem,” said Holt.
“They have a lot to learn from one another,” he continued. “And a lot of cities are beginning to partner up in the effort to fight crime. So it’s a good news story. I think a lot of people think that Chicago violence is still as bad or getting worse. This is about showing that on some levels, it really is improving.”
Holt’s day will also include spending time with a youth jazz education program, “and I’m even kind of looking forward to playing a little bass with them,” he said. “It’s part of stories we call ‘Inspiring America,’ kind of uplifting stories that make you feel good about the world.”