Kristen Welker’s controversial debut as “Meet the Press” moderator
NBC News’ Kristen Welker, on the set of “Meet the Press” on Sunday. (Photo: courtesy of NBC News.)
Well, that didn’t take long.
Kristen Welker made her debut ([link removed]) as permanent moderator of NBC’s “Meet the Press” late Sunday morning. By early Sunday afternoon, just like her predecessor Chuck Todd experienced weekly, Welker was being roundly booed on social media.
The main criticism was her first big interview ([link removed]) : former president Donald Trump. Even before it aired, critics were fired up with their usual question: “Why give Trump a platform to spew his lies, conspiracy theories and divisive and dangerous agendas?”
And Welker was on the receiving end of that criticism.
Media observer, author and former New York Times reporter Bill Carter tweeted ([link removed]) , “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.”
Then again — and this is something I’ve written about over and over — Trump is supported by, according to some polls, half of the country. He is the likely Republican candidate for president. Polls show he has a real chance at becoming president again. Doesn’t that make him newsworthy, especially if treated in a responsible way?
Last year, while doing a story on “Meet the Press,” ([link removed]) I talked to the show’s executive producer, David P. Gelles, who told me, “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.”
That was the philosophy here. “Meet the Press” chose to interview a former president who might be the future president. The question was how were they going to do it?
First off, perhaps having learned from other disastrous interviews given by Trump, NBC News decided to tape the interview instead doing it live.
Welker did an admirable job — as well as one can do when dealing with someone who won’t play by the rules of being truthful, focused and transparent. As best she could, Welker pushed back on many of Trump’s claims. Were there times that she simply had to move on to get to more topics and deal with time limits? Yes. But Welker was criticized for that strategy.
Daily Beast media reporter Corbin Bolies wrote ([link removed]) , “… like those who have tried before, her inherent skills as an interviewer were no match for a chaotic interview subject like Trump.”
Bolies later added, “Welker’s relative control and composure during the sit-down also allowed for some of the steam-rolling Trump successfully landed in his garbled CNN town hall.”
Los Angeles Times TV critic Lorraine Ali wrote ([link removed]) , “… the television event also highlighted a problem that traditional news outlets have faced since Trump emerged as a potent figure on the political scene in 2016. Treating the former reality TV star like any other presidential candidate or victor before him assumes that he’s playing by the same set of rules as his predecessors. News flash: He’s not.”
Ali credited Welker for pushing back on many of Trump’s remarks, but Ali wrote, “The sit-down may prove to be a ratings boon for the network, and perhaps even further boost Welker’s career, but it failed to cut through the usual low-information bluster of past interviews with the former president. Trump was Trump. Legacy media was legacy media. But somewhere in between is the high-stakes story of ratings versus journalistic responsibility and the dangers that dance presents to our democracy.”
However, give “Meet the Press” credit for putting in several layers of fact-checks.
First, there was Welker’s real-time fact-checking. In addition, because the interview was taped, each segment of the interview was followed with context from Welker.
For example, after a segment in which Trump blamed House Speaker Nancy Pelosi for authorities not protecting the Capitol on Jan. 6, Welker told the audience, “Now a little bit of context here (about) Mr. Trump’s allegations he ordered troops in the days leading up to the January 6 attack. The Defense Department says the former president never gave a formal order to have 10,000 troops ready to be deployed to the capitol. Of course, it’s unreasonable to blame former Speaker Pelosi or lawmakers on Capitol Hill for what happened that day. Pelosi’s office says the claim she turned down troops was, quote, ‘Completely made up.’”
Also, NBC News’ website has a breakdown of fact checks from the interview ([link removed]) .
Still, “Meet the Press” anticipated the criticism and tried to get ahead of it by talking on air with New York Times’ White House correspondent Peter Baker.
Welker said to Baker, “He is the former president. He’s facing four indictments.” She asked him as a journalist to set the scene for viewers, explaining “the backdrop of why there is still news value and value for the public to hear from him.”
Baker said, “This is a huge challenge for American journalists, of course, right? It can’t be that a person can run for president of the United States, be a front runner (of) 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. Now, obviously the challenge for us — because he is just going to spout out one thing after another — real time (fact-checking) is a real hard thing. But what you’ve done here is edit it and make sure people understand what’s real and what’s not.”
No matter how the interview turned out, Welker was going to get slammed by those who dislike Trump — especially when Trump didn’t respond the way much of the audience wanted him to respond. In the end, Welker can only ask the questions. She can’t answer them.
Vox’s Ellen Ioanes wrote ([link removed]) , “Sunday’s interview shows that Trump still lacks the vision, understanding and capability to effectively govern — and that his only goal, as always, is self-promotion. The interview underscored a vagueness on substantive policy which allows Trump’s supporters and potential voters to read what they want into his statements and feel like he represents their interests, while also letting him double down on election-denying conspiracy theories.”
Despite that, however, the interview did break a little news, including Trump urging Republicans to reconsider the “no exceptions” portion of their anti-abortion views and that he ignored legal advice from attorneys who told him the election wasn’t stolen.
Unlike many, I was a fan of Todd. And unlike many, I thought Welker’s debut on Sunday was more than respectable.
** Where was Biden?
“Meet the Press” took some heat for interviewing the former president instead of the current president in Welker’s debut as moderator. Welker said on the show that “Meet the Press” did invite Joe Biden onto the show, and that the president has an open invitation.
The word is that Biden’s camp declined the invite. One would assume he didn’t want to face questions about his son, Hunter, who was indicted last week on federal firearms charges.
** Welker’s big day
Welker closed Sunday’s show by commenting on her new role as “Meet the Press” moderator.
She said, “I want to take a moment to thank you, our viewers. It is an incredible honor to be sitting in this chair, and I feel the huge responsibility it carries. I also want to recognize all of the women, all of the people of color, who’ve been pathfinders to make this moment possible, as well as all of the journalists who have mentored me along the way. When my colleague Andrea Mitchell applied for her first job at a news radio station in Philadelphia in 1967, she was told the newsroom was no place for a woman. Well, she talked them into hiring her for the overnight shift. I’m here because she and other fearless women never stopped fighting for their places in the newsroom.”
Welker mentioned how all the main Sunday morning shows are moderated (or co-moderated) by women: Margaret Brennan (CBS’s “Face the Nation”), Martha Raddatz (who co-moderates ABC’s “This Week” with George Stephanopoulos), Dana Bash (who alternates moderating CNN’s “State of the Union” with Jake Tapper) and Shannon Bream (“Fox News Sunday”).
** Wenner’s remarks have consequences
Rolling Stone co-founder Jann Wenner, shown here last September. (Photo by Evan Agostini/Invision/AP, File)
Jann Wenner has had an undeniable impact in the music world, most notably as the influential co-founder of Rolling Stone magazine. He was more than just a co-founder. He was the longtime editor and conducted many interviews over the years with legends in the rock industry.
In fact, it’s some of those interviews that have been turned into a new book called “The Masters.” Ahead of its publication, Wenner sat down with The New York Times’ David Marchese for an interview ([link removed]) in which Wenner made disturbing remarks that were racist and sexist.
Marchese pointed out to Wenner that his new book features interviews with Bob Dylan, Jerry Garcia, Mick Jagger, John Lennon, Bruce Springsteen, Pete Townshend and Bono — all white and male.
About women not being included in his book, Wenner, 77, said, “Just none of them were as articulate enough on this intellectual level.”
Wenner then said, “Of Black artists — you know, Stevie Wonder, genius, right? I suppose when you use a word as broad as ‘masters,’ the fault is using that word. Maybe Marvin Gaye, or Curtis Mayfield? I mean, they just didn’t articulate at that level.”
Marchese confronted Wenner with several names that certainly seem to fit the list of being music “masters,” mentioning artists such as Carole King, and Joni Mitchell, as well as Wonder. But Wenner said, “It’s not that they’re inarticulate, although, go have a deep conversation with Grace Slick or Janis Joplin. Please, be my guest. You know, Joni (Mitchell) was not a philosopher of rock ’n’ roll. She didn’t, in my mind, meet that test.”
When pushed even more by Marchese, Wenner said, “The selection was intuitive. It was what I was interested in. You know, just for public relations sake, maybe I should have gone and found one Black and one woman artist to include here that didn’t measure up to that same historical standard, just to avert this kind of criticism. Which, I get it. I had a chance to do that. Maybe I’m old-fashioned and I don’t give a (expletive) or whatever. I wish in retrospect I could have interviewed Marvin Gaye. Maybe he’d have been the guy. Maybe Otis Redding, had he lived, would have been the guy.”
It didn’t take long for the deserved backlash to start. The interview was published on the Times website on Friday. On Saturday, through his publisher, Little, Brown and Company, Wenner said in a statement, “In my interview with The New York Times I made comments that diminished the contributions, genius and impact of Black and women artists and I apologize wholeheartedly for those remarks. I totally understand the inflammatory nature and badly chosen words and deeply apologize and accept the consequences.”
The first consequence? Wenner has been removed from the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame board of directors. Wenner was a co-founder of the hall.
Wenner left Rolling Stone in 2019 and completed selling the magazine in 2020.
** Barrymore’s wild week
Drew Barrymore, shown here at an event in New York City in April. (Photo by Evan Agostini/Invision/AP, File)
It has been a topsy-turvy few days for actor-turned-popular-TV-host Drew Barrymore. Last week, Barrymore announced that her show — the daytime, syndicated “The Drew Barrymore Show” — was going to resume despite the writers’ strike. Barrymore said the show would not include written material that violates the rules of the strike. Her reasoning for relaunching the show was so that other workers on the show could return to work (and get paid).
Even after initial backlash, Barrymore doubled down by putting out a video on social media in which she said, “This is bigger than me.” She added, “My decision to go back to the show — I didn’t want to hide behind people, so I won’t. And I won’t polish this with bells and whistles and publicists and corporate rhetoric. I’ll just stand out there and accept and be responsible.”
She also said, “Nothing I can do that will make this OK for those it is not OK with. I fully accept that. I fully understand that there are so many reasons why this is so complex and I just want everyone to know my intentions have never been in a place to upset or hurt anyone.”
The video seemed to make things worse, and after heavy criticism in the industry, Barrymore deleted it.
Now she’s reversing her decision to restart the show. In an Instagram post ([link removed]) on Sunday, Barrymore wrote, “I have listened to everyone, and I am making the decision to pause the show’s premiere until the strike is over. I have no words to express my deepest apologies to anyone I have hurt and, of course, to our incredible team who works on the show and has made it what it is today. We really tried to find our way forward. And I truly hope for a resolution for the entire industry very soon.”
Still, some damage has been done. Check out this column from The Los Angeles Times’ Meredith Blake: “Drew Barrymore spent years building her brand. Without writers, it unraveled in a week.” ([link removed])
** Media tidbits
• Fox News’ Bret Baier will interview Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. The interview will air Wednesday at 6 p.m. Eastern on Fox News’ “Special Report.” This will be bin Salman’s first interview with a major American news network since 2019.
• As The New York Times moves closer to shutting down its sports section, Washington Post sports columnist Barry Svrluga writes, “An ode to the newspaper sports section, as it gasps for air.” ([link removed])
• The Associated Press’ David Bauder with “For several episodes this fall, ’60 Minutes’ will become 90 minutes.” ([link removed])
• The Wall Street Journal’s Emily Bobrow with “Sheila Johnson, the First Black Female Billionaire, Keeps Reinventing Herself.” ([link removed])
** Hot type
The always superb Geoff Edgers of The Washington Post writes about the alternative band making a comeback of sorts in “What happened to the Breeders?” ([link removed]) I love that Edgers and the Post dedicated the time and energy to writing about this offbeat yet interesting topic, and that Edgers did it so well.
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