Interviews with Donald Trump generate clicks, buzz, and money for news organizations that care more about profits than journalism.
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It would be unfair to say that new Meet the Press host Kristen Welker is uniquely unqualified to deal with Donald Trump. Her conversation with the former president on Sunday simply shows that she is just the latest in a long line of mainstream media journalists who are ill-equipped to deal with a man who can overwhelm interviewers with an avalanche of lies and gibberish.
Sadly, none of them appears to have learned the lesson. Or, perhaps more accurately, they don’t care. After all, these interviews generate clicks, buzz, and money for news organizations that are more about profits than journalism.
They don’t seem to care that they are doing a real disservice to the country and to democracy in the process.
If they were, they would stop giving Trump and others like him a platform altogether.
Sunday’s interview was a perfect example of how not to handle an interview with the former president.
To her credit, at times Welker attempted to push back or provide a real-time fact-check when Trump told lies, made up statistics, or failed to provide specifics on anything he plans to do if he were to be elected for a second term next year.
The problem is that this is an impossible task.
Trying to keep Trump from lying is like trying to walk in a hurricane without getting wet.
However, since this isn’t a surprise, why even put him on the air? There is certainly no journalistic purpose, which means it’s for ratings and to stir up controversy. But are those good reasons for normalizing the candidacy of a man who tried to stage a coup and poses the greatest threat to US democracy?
Of course not.
There are only two ways to interview Trump.
One is to be confrontational. This is an approach you can do exactly one time. Instead of allowing Trump to overwhelm the interviewer, it should be the other way around. In this case, that would mean quoting from the four indictments against him, pointing to his many failed election challenges, noting that he has lied thousands of times while in office, and making it clear that he poses a threat to democracy.
None of that is accomplished by letting him launch into his tirades.
A modified version of this is what NBC should have done today. The conversation was taped earlier this week, so NBC had plenty of time to point out every single one of Trump’s lies. They could interrupt the broadcast of the interview every few seconds to point out that he made false statements or prominently fact-check him on screen.
What you cannot do is to note at the end of the interview that a fact-check is available on NBC’s website. That helps nobody.
There is another option that is much more effective in generating real news than what Meet the Press did. And, ironically, that is the approach the right-wing media takes.
Here, the hosts are so deferential to Trump that they just let him ramble on, which is why these interviews are often the ones in which he admits to all kinds of wrongdoing.
And, since she wasn’t going to challenge the former president, this is where Welker committed real journalistic malpractice.
One exchange alone, had she handled it differently, would have made it worth it to grant Trump a network interview (his first since staging the coup).
There was a point in the conversation where the two were talking about the Big Lie. Below is the entire exchange to illustrate how she screwed up (and you should read the entire thing before watching the relevant clip):
FMR. PRES. DONALD TRUMP: I needed a very small —
KRISTEN WELKER: To win?
FMR. PRES. DONALD TRUMP: I think somebody said 22,000 votes.
KRISTEN WELKER: To win?
FMR. PRES. DONALD TRUMP: Yeah. If you divide it among the states, it was 22,000 votes, something to that effect —
KRISTEN WELKER: To — to win the election?
FMR. PRES. DONALD TRUMP: Yeah. If I would’ve had another 22,000 votes over the whole — but, look. They rigged the election —
KRISTEN WELKER: Is —
FMR. PRES. DONALD TRUMP: If you look at Pennsylvania —
KRISTEN WELKER: But Mr. President, you’re saying you needed —
FMR. PRES. DONALD TRUMP: If you looked at all the stuff —
KRISTEN WELKER: — more votes to win the election, are you acknowledging you didn’t win?
FMR. PRES. DONALD TRUMP: Excuse me. If you look at all of the statistics, all of the votes, they say 22,000 votes. Over millions and millions of votes, 22,000 votes. So when they do Twitter Files, or when they have 51 intelligence agents come out and lie that the laptop from hell was Russia disinformation, and now they find out it’s not, but they knew that at the time. They cheated on the election in that way too.
KRISTEN WELKER: I — I just want to be clear, though. Are you saying you needed those votes in order to win? Are you acknowledging you didn’t win?
FMR. PRES. DONALD TRUMP: I’m not acknowledging. No. I say I won the election.
As you can see, Welker knew that she was onto something here. Trump’s defense in the coup cases will be that he believed that he won the election, all evidence and lost lawsuits to the contrary. However, here, he talked about how many votes he needed to have won. Never mind that the 22,000 votes figure is wrong; essentially, he was admitting that he lost.
But instead of letting Trump continue down this path, maybe even with questions that got him to talk about it more, Welker foolishly kept throwing him lifelines.
If you watch the clip of that exchange, 16 seconds in, Trump realizes that he screwed up.
WATCH: Former President Trump says he needed ’22,000 votes’ in each state to win in 2020, but falsely claims he still won
When you say you needed one-tenth of a point, you needed one-tenth of a point to win?
FMR. PRES. DONALD TRUMP:
I needed a very small — I… pic.twitter.com/zcLrTvS993
— Meet the Press (@MeetThePress) September 17, 2023
But he only does so because in those 16 seconds, Welker had already interrupted him three times and tried to get him to explicitly say that he lost, which he wasn’t going to do. After the third time, even an idiot like Trump could figure out what was going on, and he then reverted back to his usual talking points.
That was a huge missed opportunity, and if you aren’t prepared to take advantage of those, then you shouldn’t have the former president on in the first place.