NBC News may trump its rivals when it comes to interviewing a certain former Commander-in-Chief.
David Muir, Lesley Stahl, John Dickerson, Chris Wallace, Bill O’Reilly, Kaitlan Collins and Jim Acosta have all tried their hand at interviewing Donald Trump; lobbing questions at him; or moderating a debate or event in which his participation was key. Some have drawn blood and others have been bloodied (and some others left agog as Trump walked out unexpectedly). But anchors and reporters working for NBC News seem to have the most success at keeping him in line while trying to elicit big news out of him.
Kristen Welker has the next turn at bat. She has pre-taped an interview with Trump that is one of the main features of her first broadcast at the helm of NBC News’ “Meet The Press.” The NBCUniversal-backed outlet has already revealed that Trump told her he was not likely to pardon himself if he got re-elected.
In the short history of interviewing President Trump, NBC News has fared relatively well despite the challenges that come in giving him a platform. TV news organizations are often flummoxed in trying to serve mandates that can often be contradictory. One the one hand, they are meant to turn up critical information and hold newsmakers to account. On the other, their parent companies depend on them to deliver big audiences that can be monetized through advertising sales and distribution fees. What plays well to a crowd isn’t always the most informative content, as anyone who has watched the ABC series “The Love Boat” can attest.
NBC has deep ties to Trump. His reality-competition series “The Apprentice” was a cornerstone of the network’s entertainment lineup for years. NBC raised eyebrows when it gave Trump the host slot (but just 12 minutes’ worth of air time) on a 2015 broadcast of “Saturday Night Live. “”Tonight Show” host Jimmy Fallon came under scrutiny in 2016 when the show booked Trump for an appearance and Fallon messed up his hair in a bit that generated laughs, then pushback as critics asked why the late-night comic didn’t ask his guest tougher questions related to politics and national affairs.
With Kristen Welker set to present a one-on-one interview with Trump Sunday (pre-taped with fact checks and other materials released after the show) below is a look at four journalistic exchanges between NBC News and Trump from which the organization emerged in better shape than the newsmaker:
May 2017: Lester Holt interviews President Trump, who reveals he fired former FBI Director James Comey largely on his own gut response. His answer contradicts the White House and an explanation given in a termination letter for Comey’s firing, which said his dismissal was based on recommendations from top Department of Justice officials, including then-Attorney General Jeff Sessions, Trump would later falsely accuse Holt of “fudging” the tape of the exchange, which has served as a cornerstorne in many legal probes of his actions.
March 2020: Peter Alexander asks Trump during a press update on the coronavirus pandemic what he would say to Americans who may be scared durinmg that moment . Trump berated the journalist for trying to practice “sensationalism” and then moved into a brief aside about Comcast, NBC News’ parent company. “I don’t call it Comcast. I call it ‘Con-Cast.’” Alexander’s query put a spotlight on Trump’s lack of empathy for Americans who were nervous, frightened or suffering.
October 2020: Welker moderates a presidential debate between Trump and then-challenger Joe Biden. The first meeting between the two political rivals was judged to have gone off the rails, with Trump ranting over moderator Chris Wallace’s attempts to keep proceedings under control. Welker kept chaos in a corner, helped potentially by the fact that Trump’s previous debate behavior was widely criticized as was his efforts to denigrate Welker online in advance of her turn leading the event. The Washington Post said Welker should “deservedly, be credited with saving the televised presidential debate format from its certain descent into hell.”
October 2020: Savannah Guthrie moderates a town hall between Trump and a live crowd that was panned even before it appeared on screen. With the prospect of another debate falling apart after Trump got coronavirus, the Biden campaign organized a town hall event moderated by ABC News’ George Stephanopoulos NBC News took a shellacking in public opinion by agreeing to hold a separate event with Trump at the same time as ABC’s special. Tensions were high due to the campaign and the pandemic, and many critics asked why NBC would give Trump such a platform. But Guthrie kept a tight rein on the proceedings, asking him why he had a problem making a definitive dismissal of white supremacy; telling him he had no legal defense against the release of his much sought-after tax returns: and asking him to denounce conspiracy theories held by some of his backers. When Trump tried to downplay the seriousness of some of his bizarre behavior in office, she told him, “You’re the president, you’re not like somebody’s crazy uncle who can retweet whatever.”
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