Politico reported that according to network news executives, presidential debate moderators Chris Wallace of Fox News and Lester Holt of NBC were chosen with the intention of keeping Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump comfortable and to ensure he shows up.
Trump has repeatedly complained that the media is biased against him, even as the coverage of his scandals is minimized under the pretense of false balance. Trump’s complaints also reportedly made the commission struggle to select moderators. The moderator choices, which excluded Latino journalists but included Fox’s Wallace despite his glaring conflict of interest, seem to indicate Trump successfully influenced the debate commission. Wallace has publicly acknowledged he has no intention of becoming “a truth squad” for the candidates during the debates and has in the past twice enabled Trump to lie about his stance on the Iraq war during live interviews on Fox.
A September 12 Politico article reported that media executives share the belief that the debate commission took Trump’s feelings into consideration in the choice of NBC’s Lester Holt “who Trump is comfortable with” and believe Wallace “was tapped to moderate the third and final debate to lessen the likelihood that Trump skips it.” As reported by Politico:
Indeed, the media industry as a whole has become addicted to the television ratings and higher click-rates generated by Trump. And among media executives, the treatment of Trump by some networks and reporters is directly related to the leverage he holds, and he knows it.
“[Trump] is personally more involved in the process than most candidates are or at least admit to be,” said one network news executive, granted anonymity to speak privately. “His team is very keen on making sure he’s comfortable with who the interviewer is and the placement of the news cycle. He understands news very well. He’s more involved directly in booking than a typical candidate has been. They say yes a lot more, that’s not a surprise, a lot more than Hillary.”
While that executive said Trump asks for specific anchors or moderators less than others, the GOP nominee is clear about which ones he prefers. It’s hard to envision Trump agreeing to last week’s NBC forum were Rachel Maddow or Chuck Todd asking the questions. And there is wide speculation among media executives that NBC’s Lester Holt, who Trump is comfortable with, was chosen to moderate the first debate with Clinton later this month in order to appease the GOP nominee. Similarly, some also believe that Fox News’ Chris Wallace was tapped to moderate the third and final debate to lessen the likelihood that Trump skips it.
In February, CBS News president Les Moonves’ admission that Trump’s campaign “may not be good for America, but it’s damn good for CBS” laid bare the motivation behind many networks non-stop Trump coverage and the imperative of keeping him reasonably happy.