I'm a big fan of Meet the Press. It's been a Sunday viewing habit of mine for as long as I can remember. I enjoyed Chuck Todd when he was the host. But he's no longer with Meet the Press.
Today was the debut of Todd's replacement, Kristen Welker. The show was devoted to a taped interview Welker did with Donald Trump. A transcript of the interview is here.
The best part of the interview for me was seeing how old Trump looks.
Either his makeup artist has gone on strike, or the pressures of his four indictments is getting to him. Regardless, it's hard for me to see how anyone watching the interview would think that Biden is old and Trump isn't. If anything, Trump looked older than Biden even though he's several years younger.
After that first impression, the interview went downhill. Welker did her best to get Trump to answer her questions and not get away with blatant lies, but her best wasn't nearly good enough.
Trump refused to answer questions. He talked over Welker. He interrupted her when she tried to fact check his lies. Welker served up some softball questions rather than using her interview time to pin Trump down on tough questions.
On the positive side -- and Welker certainly had some good moments -- Welker got Trump to admit that he was the one who made the decision that the 2020 election was rigged, not his attorneys at the time.
His current attorneys defending him in the January 6 and Georgia indictments won't like that he said this, since Trump demolished a potential defense position that his attempts to overthrow the election were based on advice from legal experts that he'd actually beaten Joe Biden.
Overall, though, Trump got away with way too many lies.
Welker would correct some of them after an interview segment was shown. However, inexplicably Welker didn't say that Trump's repeated claim that Democrats want to kill babies after birth, or that this happens, was entirely false. Instead she rather weakly said that late term abortions are rare, constituting just 1% of abortions, if I recall correctly.
NBC News did publish a fact check of Trump's lies and false statements, which, though better than nothing, won't get anywhere near the attention that the interview itself did.
So a valid criticism of Welker and Meet the Press is that while they knew full well that Trump would use the interview to spread his lies that the election was stolen, Joe Biden engaged in illegal behavior, and other falsehoods, they gave Trump a big soapbox anyway, essentially providing him a forum to give a campaign speech.
Here's some quotes from people who are critical of what Meet the Press did.
Corbin Boiles of The Daily Beast:
Journalists and commentators for years have wrestled with the question of how to approach Donald Trump, a former president who is both a prolific liar and facing dozens of criminal charges in federal and state court. In her debut turn as moderator for Meet The Press, Kristen Welker wanted to be the latest to prove to critics that he could be challenged.
But like those who have tried before, her inherent skills as an interviewer were no match for a chaotic interview subject like Trump.
...He repeatedly refused to answer questions—directly telling Welker “I’m not going to tell you” when asked if he watched the chaos on Jan. 6 from a White House dining room—and made multiple ludicrous claims that were left largely unchallenged, or weakly so. (Democrats want to kill babies after birth! Nancy Pelosi was responsible for Jan. 6!)
NBC produced multiple post-interview fact-checks on air and online, including after each interview segment during the broadcast, but that is no replacement for an on-the-spot confrontation. Presenting an evidence-backed fact check to Trump’s face allows an audience to watch him reject truth in real time. That serves a greater purpose than roundups scattered throughout NBC’s online platforms.
Ari Berman of Mother Jones:
On Sunday, Trump gave his first broadcast network interview since leaving office, joining NBC’s Meet the Press from his golf club in Bedminster, New Jersey. It followed a predictable script: Trump says a bunch of outlandish and untrue things, the interviewer (in this case Kristen Welker, making her debut as host) pushes back in a very serious way, and in the meantime Trump’s base only hears the lies, not the fact-checks. We’ve seen this happen over and over.
“I plan on watching the Meet the Press interview Sunday, but this is not encouraging,” NYU journalism professor Jay Rosen wrote after watching one clip. “He floods the zone. She nods her head. And they make content of it — boring, predictable content — for other NBC shows. Pointless and inane.”
...Meet the Press will likely get a ratings boost today. The network will brag about how responsibly they covered Trump. And the former president, as he so often does, will have the last laugh.
Bill Goodykoontz of the Arizona Republic:
Well, she tried.
That’s about the best you can say for Kristen Welker’s interview with Donald Trump in her first week as the new moderator of NBC’s “Meet the Press.” Despite putting some guardrails in place to protect against Trump’s repeated lies — the interview was pre-taped, without a MAGA-fied audience like the disastrous live CNN town hall in May — it was the same old tired song and dance.
And Welker seemed powerless to do much of anything about it.
If she can’t hold him accountable, who can? This was Trump’s first interview with a broadcast news network since he left office. As his lies have become increasingly bold and unhinged, as his popularity among his base seems to grow, what’s the alternative?
...There is simply too much at stake. As others have pointed out, the upcoming election is not just a Democrats vs. Republicans horse race, though some insist on covering it that way.
You don’t have to be a fan of Biden or of Democratic policies to understand that this is in many ways a referendum on democracy itself, as Trump and his base — which includes legislators, governors and rich donors, among others — work to dismantle it.
It is incumbent upon journalists to make their audiences aware of this, to frame their work in this context, and to remind them of it constantly. (In the full, unedited interview, Welker asked Trump if he believed in democracy. He said he did, but "I don’t consider us to have much of a democracy right now.")
Filling Sunday morning with lies, no matter how much you fact check them, isn’t enough.