Former NBC White House correspondent Kristen Welker’s first day at the helm of Meet the Press was largely overshadowed by criticisms of Welker’s interview with former President Donald Trump and her failure to hold him accountable as he unleashed a barrage of lies and falsehoods. Following the interview, several media watchdogs expressed their disappointment in Welker for failing to set a new tone for Meet the Press that serves its audience by holding political figures’ feet to the fire instead of broadcasting their false claims without pushback.
Welker made her Meet the Press debut with an ill-fated Trump interview filled with lies and false claims
- On September 19, Welker’s first episode as the new host of Meet the Press aired on NBC and featured a pre-taped interview with Trump, the Republican 2024 frontrunner. The interview was interspersed with clips of Welker, who replaced longtime host Chuck Todd, providing context to some of Trump’s false claims. [NBC News, 9/17/23]
- After the interview, mainstream outlets rushed to point out how Trump had spread false claims with minimal pushback. While CNN and PolitiFact avoided formally critiquing Welker in their fact checks, pieces from both outlets highlighted Trump’s lies and false claims about issues such as inflation, abortion, and his attempts to undermine the 2020 presidential election results. [CNN; 9/17/23; PolitiFact, 9/18/23]
- Though NBC News’ website published its own fact check of the interview, other mainstream outlets highlighted some falsehoods ignored by NBC. As noted by Popular Information, CNN’s article debunking various Trump claims discussed his comments on drug cartels, the Strategic Petroleum Reserve, and the Nord Stream 2 pipeline. [NBC News, 9/17/23; Popular Information, 9/19/23]
Press watchdogs and mainstream columnists explain the failings of the interview and how outlets looking to interview Trump must improve
- Los Angeles Times critic Lorraine Ali wrote that Welker’s interview brought forth many of the same issues that plagued Trump coverage in the 2016 and 2020 elections. Ali largely criticized NBC for falling in line with the trend of “bothside-ism in legacy journalism” and misleadingly treating Trump as a run-of-the-mill candidate rather than explaining “the dangers” that his candidacy “presents to our democracy.” [Los Angeles Times, 9/17/23]
- CNN senior media reporter Oliver Darcy wrote that Welker’s first run as Meet the Press moderator “fails to meet the moment” and “lacked the necessary fervor and apparent grasp of the subject material the massive platform requires to effectively counter Trump.” While Darcy praised “Welker’s otherwise pristine career” in journalism, he concluded that she ultimately failed to use her first episode of Meet the Press to “refresh the program, define what role it will serve in the 2024 election, and win over the hearts and minds of viewers.” [CNN, 9/19/23]
- Press Watch’s Dan Froomkin highlighted the dangers of mainstream media agreeing to interview Trump, which “inevitably comes with strings attached — implicit and explicit.” Comparing the Meet the Press interview with CNN’s May town hall “debacle” with Trump and anchor Kaitlan Collins, Froomkin lamented that the NBC program had “no ravening pro-Trump studio audience, and it wasn’t live, so that’s better. But when it came to normalizing a profoundly abnormal candidate – an insurrectionist, an epic liar, a fantasist and a predator – this was worse.” [Press Watch, 9/18/23]
- In his Public Notice newsletter, media critic Aaron Rupar characterized Welker’s debut as a guide on “how not to interview Trump.” Rupar wrote that by giving Trump a softball interview, Welker only “helps his cause by legitimizing him as a reasonable choice for voters” and urged that journalists must “bring receipts and be prepared for confrontation” in such a high-profile interview. [Public Notice, 9/18/23]
- Writing for Deadline, Ted Johnson elucidated how current interviews with Trump present a “greater challenge and even risk for news outlets” compared to previous election cycles. He also emphasized the candidate’s tendency to easily deflect questions to push his own narrative, which was further enabled by Welker allowing false claims to go unchallenged in order to move along with the interview. [Deadline, 9/17/23]
- The Popular Information newsletter underscored how Welker could have used her interview with Trump as “an opportunity to confront Trump about these lies and hold him to account for his public dishonesty.” Without properly addressing and correcting Trump’s false claims, the newsletter stated that Welker’s and NBC’s “unmistakable message was fact-checking Trump was less important than the spectacle of Trump.” [Popular Information, 9/19/23]
- The Bulwark’s Jonathan V. Last noted that the only positive aspect about Welker’s interview of Trump was that it was prerecorded, adding: “Everything else about this interview was poorly executed.” In addition to criticizing Welker, Last lambasted mainstream broadcast media for its complicity in normalizing Trump’s extremism, cautioning networks to “stop giving aid and comfort to the authoritarian just because you want to pull a ratings number.” [The Bulwark, 9/18/23]
Update (9/20/23): This piece has been updated with an additional example.