How not to interview Trump
Kristen Welker's tenure as "Meet the Press" moderator got off to an inauspicious start.
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Kristen Welker’s whitewashing of Trump began in the opening seconds of her debut as Chuck Todd’s replacement on “Meet the Press.”
“I sat down with the former president at his golf club in Bedminster, New Jersey — his first network interview since leaving office,” she said, walking alongside Trump on his golf course, and omitting the real reason for his banishment: not that he left office, but that he incited a violent insurrection in an attempt not to leave. And Trump’s return to NBC only got more problematic from there.
The first thing to understand about Trump is that he’s not a normal politician. He doesn’t give a rip about policy. What he cares about is saying and doing whatever it takes to fulfill his desires and thirst for power, including destroying democracy if necessary. Treating him as anything other than a depraved authoritarian is not only wrongheaded, but helps his cause by legitimizing him as a reasonable choice for voters. And that’s exactly what Welker did.
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Trump is not your friend
To be clear, I don’t necessarily think interviewing Trump is a bad idea. He almost certainly will be the next Republican nominee for president, and as a result some of what he says is newsworthy. But to the extent that journalists are on the side of democracy and want to interview him responsibly, you have to bring receipts and be prepared for confrontation. The approach Jonathan Swan took during his legendary Trump interrogation in the summer of 2020 comes to mind as an example of how to do it. Given Trump’s dishonesty and shamelessness, the bottom line is that if you go in hoping to get along, you’ll get steamrolled. And if you do it right, Trump will almost certainly never want to talk to you again.
Alas, instead of coming ready for a fight, Welker conducted herself as though she’s Trump’s therapist. Case in point was the substance-free question she asked him about the 91 felony charges he’s been hit with.
“Mr. President, I want to stay focused on you … tell me what you see when you look at your mugshot” she prompted him. (You can watch the full interview below. Hyperlinks will take you to specific moments I clipped and posted on social media.)
When she wasn’t trying to get Trump in touch with his feelings, Welker was overwhelmed by his nonstop lying. She offered no pushback at all when Trump claimed, without a shred of evidence, that President Biden orchestrated his indictments, instead saying to him, “I want to know what’s in your head. Do you worry about going to jail?” Their lengthy exchange about abortion was another case in point.
Trump repeatedly lied about Democrats supporting the murder of babies, saying things like, “Look, the Democrats are able to kill the baby after birth.” Welker made a couple meek attempts to push back — “no one is arguing for that,” she protested — but eventually gave up as Trump just kept on lying. Check out the exchange below, where Welker changes the topic instead of challenging Trump’s lie about legalized baby murder in New York.
Because Welker’s approach was so feeble, footage of Trump lying was broken up with shots of her back in the studio trying to clean things up with fact-checks she was either unwilling or unable to provide in real time. But even these left a lot to be desired. After Trump lied about Democrats supporting the murder of babies, for instance, “Meet the Press” cut to Welker assessing an entirely different and less incendiary claim.
“One important fact-check we do want to highlight: Abortions later in pregnancy are exceedingly rare,” she said.
Welker mentioned at the end of the interview that a fact-check of her interview with Trump is available on NBC’s website, and “Meet the Press” pointed out on social media that Trump “made a spate of false and misleading comments” throughout.
But that’s the problem. Allowing Trump to go on your network and pollute the minds of viewers is irresponsible, and no online fact-check can atone for it.
How much have we really learned since 2016?
Trump is known to get himself in trouble even during softball interviews, and he made a few eyebrow-raising remarks to Welker, including teasing pardons for Proud Boys leaders convicted of J6-related offenses, downplaying Putin’s war crimes, and indicating his strategy for ending Russia’s war on Ukraine would be to give Putin “Crimea and other parts of the country.” But we didn’t need this “Meet the Press” interview to know that Trump still supports his coup attempt and loves him some Putin.
It was hard to watch and come away with an impression other than that the press hasn’t learned very much since 2016. Then as now, a thirst for ratings persuades legacy media outlets to normalize the depraved, and the desire to appear unbiased results in a warped portrayal of Trump as a normal politician. Both of these dynamics were on full display during Welker’s attempt Friday afternoon on Andrea Mitchell’s MSNBC show to hype her Trump interview, which she teased by describing him as “fired up about a lot of issues” and “leaning into his deal-making status.”
Media personalities may have had a shred of plausible deniability when they made claims like this back in 2016, but that’s certainly no longer the case in 2023. The fact of the matter is that Trump’s possible return to power poses an existential threat to American democracy, and coverage that obfuscates this vital point by pretending he’s “fired up” about policy or a skilled “deal-maker” is complicit.
Trump promoted his “Meet the Press” interview on Truth Social and seems to be pleased with how it turned out, indicating to Welker at the end that he hopes to come on again as she told him it was hopefully just “one of many interviews.” And why wouldn’t it be? He was platformed by NBC and given the chance to cultivate more followers by a moderator unwilling or unequipped to expose him for what he is. It was a troubling start to a new era of “Meet the Press,” and an inauspicious sign for those hoping legacy media outlets won’t get played by Trump once again.
That’s it for today
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