Kristen Welker made her debut as moderator of NBC’s “Meet the Press” Sunday morning and kicked things off with a daring choice of interviewee: Donald Trump. The former president rattled off a list of full and partial untruths, leaving many viewers and members of the media confused and disappointed.
At various points, Trump claimed “millions of illegal immigrants coming into our country, flooding our cities, flooding the countryside,” that a “record” number of terrorists have been caught “this year” and that the U.S. “gave $85 billion worth of equipment to the Taliban” this year alone.
His statements included numerous lies and exaggerations. Also rattling many who saw the interview is what was seen as how little Welker seemed to push back against Trump’s claims. As political scientist Norm Ornstein tweeted, “Oy. Trump says the Capitol Police testified against Nancy Pelosi, and then burned all the evidence. Lie upon lie upon lie. Unchallenged by Welker. Every word out of his mouth is a lie, and he talks over any questioner. Just a colossal mistake to showcase this sociopath.”
He continued, “He talks over the questioners, insults them, lies again, ignores refutations. These interviews start with the assumption that you are dealing with a ‘normal’ interviewee. They do not account for a lying narcissistic sociopath. Huge mistake for NBC, horrible way to start her tenure.”
Knowing Trump’s history of not being particularly attached to the truth in interviews and the pushback they were likely to receive, NBC pre-recorded the interview and Welker provided regular post-interview fact-checks throughout the show. They published an online fact-check featuring sections such as “Are immigrants ‘flooding’ the U.S.?” and “Are there are a record number of terrorists crossing the border?”
They also addressed criticism at the end of the episode as Welker was joined by the New York Times’ Peter Baker.
“We have gotten criticism for just sitting down with former President Trump,” Welker noted.
“This is a huge challenge for American journalists,” Baker said. “It can’t be that a person can run for president United States be a front runner and 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.”
Baker continued, “Now, obviously the challenge for us because he is just going to spout out one thing after another, in fact, I mean, real time is a real hard thing. But what you’ve done here is edit it and make sure people understand what he’s what’s real and what’s not.”
But viewers didn’t seem to feel Welker was strong enough in her real-time fact-checking of the former president. Journalist Michelangelo Signorile wrote, “She made me really not like her. Terrible debut. Reckless NBC. #BoycottMeetThePress.”
CNN analyst and author Bill Carter argued that the true danger was in having Trump on at all. As he put it, “Bottom line is she treated Trump like a normal, legit candidate, not one who tried to blow up our democracy and faces 91 felony indictments. Not just irresponsible journalism. Downright dangerous journalism to legitimize this guy — in the name of having a ‘talked about’ premiere.”
Last fall, “Meet the Press” Executive Producer David Gelles defended the show’s history of promoting bipartisan debate.
“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,” Gelles told journalism nonprofit Poynter. The show has interviewed every president dating back to John F. Kennedy.