NBC's Lester Holt is under fire for his "cushy" coverage of North Korea, despite the regime’s long record of cruelty, murder and oppression.
The star journalist traveled to the Hermit Kingdom weeks before the Peacock Network will cover the 2018 Winter Olympics in PyeongChang, South Korea, and viewers slammed his coverage as being sycophantic, decidedly uncritical and feeding "propaganda."
Holt was criticized in particular for saying he was treated “with respect” by the regime, where he reported from a ski slope as seemingly happy North Koreans were enjoying a wintry day. Viewers said the ski scene appeared to have been staged by the North Koreans, who are notorious for keeping visiting journalists on closely guarded, highly choreographed tours and not allowing interviews with high ranking government officials.
NBC News did not immediately respond to requests for comment regarding Holt’s reporting.
Holt’s highly criticized trip was overseen by embattled NBC News President Noah Oppenheim, who traveled with Holt to North Korea, a highly unusual trip for a news president. Oppenheim also traveled in June 2017 to Moscow with Megyn Kelly to produce her much-panned interview with Vladimir Putin where, like Holt, she was also accused of going soft on a dictator.
NBC News insiders told Fox News that Oppenheim was “hiding” in North Korea while controversy rages back home over Kelly’s shock denunciation of Jane Fonda, which the insiders say Oppenheim and his boss, Andy Lack, knew about in advance but declined to intervene.
"He has absolutely no reason to be there," one insider said of Oppenheim's North Korea trip.
NBC has paid nearly $1 billion for U.S. broadcast rights to the South Korea-hosted Winter Olympics next month, and the network — famous for presenting a relentlessly cheery view of the games — has been criticized in the past for whitewashing controversies from host countries and regions.
In 2008, NBC was slammed for treating China’s human rights record with kid gloves during the Beijing Olympics, and even went so far as to change the name of Italian city Turin, host of the 2006 Olympics, to “Torino” because, it was reportedly more exotic sounding. Ahead of the upcoming Winter Olympics, Pyeongchang began going by the spelling PyeongChang -- with a capital C -- to avoid association with North Korea's capital of Pyongyang.
"Holt is doing NBC’s business making everything seem hunky dory over on the Korean Peninsula,” said an NBC insider who asked not to be named, adding that NBC executives are nervous that the games’ troubled location will dampen audience enthusiasm next month.
Perhaps in a nod to Holt’s bad reviews, Holt and his team are now returning to the U.S., despite NBC having announced on Monday that Holt would be anchoring Tuesday’s broadcast "live from Seoul."
NBC insiders also told Fox News that they believe Oppenheim has been recalled to headquarters to deal with the fallout from the Jane Fonda contretemps. NBC did not respond to immediate requests for comment on the reasons for the early return.
Fox News' Brian Flood contributed to this report.