There had been significant backlash and calls for a boycott of the show after clips were released earlier this week that appeared to show little pushback to the former president’s lies about falsehoods on a number of topics ranging from January 6 to abortion.
During its full airing, there were breaks in the interview in which Welker extensively fact-checked Mr Trump’s statements. There was also a fact-checking breakdown of what was said on NBCNews.com.
After the conclusion of the pre-recorded portion — filmed earlier this week at the former president’s Bedminster, New Jersey golf club and summer home — Welker led a panel discussion to dissect his answers from a legal and political standpoint.
As part of that, Welker asked Peter Baker, The New York Times White House correspondent, to explain the reasoning for interviewing Mr Trump and why it has news value.
“This is a huge challenge for American journalists, of course, right? It cannot be that a person can run for president United States be a front-runner in his party and possibly win without ever being challenged by a tough, independent interviewer. And that’s, I think, an important part of our system,” said Baker.
“Now, obviously the challenge for us because he is just going to spout out one thing after another, and fact check[ing] in real-time is a real hard thing. But what you’ve done here is edit it and make sure people understand what here’s real.”
Much of the anger and calls for a boycott was directed at the show for giving a platform to the former president’s lies, with accusations that the interview was “normalising a maniac”.
In promoting the interview, the Welker was accused of “whitewashing Trump’s depravity” with social media users asking “Is it 2015?” and “What is wrong with you, NBC?”
This was stoked by preview clips being made available online and comments Welker made on air to colleague Andrea Mitchell on MSNBC.
She described the four-times indicted, twice-impeached former president as “fired up about a lot of issues” and “leaning into his deal-making status”.
While in the preview clips Welker does challenge Mr Trump on several issues and points of fact, the former president dominates the back-and-forth, talking over her.
In the full interview, this was also the case but Welker interjected more frequently, steered the conversation back on topic, and corrected the former president on several occasions.
The breaks in the recording with Welker in place at the anchor desk allowed for more comprehensive fact-checking and corrections.
Prior to the full broadcast, the backlash and criticism was full-throated, with journalist Aaron Rupar specifically noting that she does not call Mr Trump out when he said without any evidence that President Joe Biden directed the federal indictments against him. This was then discussed in the program.
Nevertheless, merely having the former president on the show was met with outcry. Journalist and lawyer Dean Obeidallah wrote: “Nothing like kicking off your new political show with a man who attempted a coup and incited the Jan 6 attack. It’s as if corporate media wants FASCISM. Plus she will lose liberals forever.”
In these clips, Trump utters about 30 different lies, and there's zero pushback from Kristen Welker, who instead calls him "fired up" and "defiant" – and "the president." This is, actually, worse than the CNN town hall in terms of normalizing a maniac. https://t.co/WRAIDOtgS3— Dan Froomkin (PressWatchers.org) (@froomkin) September 15, 2023
Former MSNBC News host Keith Olbermann posted: “She’s already irretrievably damaged. What a disastrous stenography job with Trump.”
Many also referred back to CNN’s live town hall in front of a cheering Trump-friendly crowd in which the former president insulted and steamrolled over Kaitlan Collins.
“Meet the Press is over, done, finished, finito. Having trump on for a softball interview and trying to normalize him as if he isn’t the most heinous criminal traitor in the history of the United States. What’s next, NBC? Gonna hold a ‘town hall’ for him too?” one post read.
Dan Froomkin, editor of Press Watch, wrote: “In these clips, Trump utters about 30 different lies, and there’s zero pushback from Kristen Welker, who instead calls him ‘fired up’ and ‘defiant’ – and ‘the president’. This is, actually, worse than the CNN town hall in terms of normalizing a maniac.”
Interviewing presidents and former presidents is a key part of Meet the Press but Mr Trump will always be the most controversial figure to put on camera. At present, he is leading the Republican primary field in every poll.
News networks have long struggled with how to handle coverage of the former president, whose bombastic style and stream of lies are difficult to push back on and experimentation with fact-checking in real-time or in interludes is likely to continue.
Meet the Press executive producer David P Gelles told The Poynter Report in late 2022: “We are in the business of covering politics. It’s not our job to pick and choose the leaders. The American people get to do that. And so our job is to make sure that the American people understand who the people in power are, what they stand for and what they plan to do.”
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