Top NBC anchor Lester Holt reveals what he was really thinking as he reported from a North Korean ski resort where people wore identical neon outfits

NBC Today‘There was likely a lot of smoke and mirrors,’ Lester Holt said.
  • NBC Nightly News anchor Lester Holt reported from a ski resort in North Korea.
  • Many of the skiers that day were dressed in the same outfits, prompting conversation that the resort was staged by the government.
  • The North Korean government dictates where journalists entering the country can report.

NBC Nightly News anchor Lester Holt began his reporting on the Pyeongchang Winter Olympic Games with a visit to a North Korean ski resort where most skiers were dressed in similar neon outfits, prompting discussion that the site was staged.

“There was likely a lot of smoke and mirrors but you couldn’t say for sure it’s totally fake,” Holt told Business Insider. The visit to North Korea was Holt’s fourth time to the Korean Peninsula since last April, and flying to the Hermit Kingdom is a unique experience.

“It’s one of those places when you go there, unlike any other place that I’ve travelled, you don’t know what you’re going to get,” Holt, who flew on the North Korean state airline from Beijing, China, said.

Midflight, the airline announces when the plane crosses into North Korean airspace, and once the flight lands a rigorous custom process begins. On his most recent trip, agents checked all personal items, even down to the specific books that travellers were reading and their toothbrushes.

Once through customs, North Korean government escorts told them the sites they would visit.

“We put in a wish list, but at the end of the day they say where you’re going to go,” Holt said. “They tell you what you can shoot. We accept that because it is one of the most mysterious places, potentially one of the most dangerous places. It’s a place where we need to get a sense of what’s happening there.”

They received guidance on what they could and couldn’t record. Holt’s crew could record images of downtown Pyongyang, with it’s high rises and new buildings. But rural areas, where citizens held manual labour jobs, were off limits.

And the ski resort trip was also planned by the North Korean government. There, skiers, some dressed in identical neon ski suits, enjoyed the slopes. The ski resort is in stark contrast to the poverty that many North Koreans experience. Holt said many of the skiers on the slopes the day he was there were government workers.

“You don’t expect to peel the curtain back too much while you’re there because of the nature of the place,” he said.

Holt’s Olympic coverage started at the 2002 Salt Lake City Winter Games.

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