Monday, September 18, 2023

Blame NBC

The interview by Kristen Welker of NBC News' Meet the Press of former President Donald J. Trump has been held, edited, and broadcast, and thankfully we are done with that. Not thankfully, we are not done with with Kristen Welker or her network's behavior.

In an example of "I'll hit you over the head with reality, and you still won't acknowledge it," Welker ended the broadcast by stating

Before we go, 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.

For the 371st on this blog: "people of color" means "colored people" and anyone over the age of 55 knows from experience that "colored people" was a pejorative term, only a little less nasty than the n-word. Anyone under 55, especially a journalist (which Welker purports to be), would know this from a modicum of knowledge of American history.

By contrast, Welker did accurately use the word "incredible" to describe the honor. As most viewers who have watched her over the years should realize, Welker's claim to be a legitimate journalist is indeed "incredible."

Nonetheless, she should not be so full of herself as to claim that she has been "honored," which is a term an individual appropriately applies to someone else. If an individual believes she herself has received unmerited favor, she recognizes herself as "privileged."

Which, indeed, Kristin Welker is, as she (presumably unintentionally) made clear when she added

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. And now, all five Sunday shows are moderated or co-moderated by women. So to Martha, Margaret, Dana, and Shannon – I am incredibly honored to join you on Sunday mornings. I also stand on the shoulders of the first moderator and co-founder of this broadcast, Martha Rountree, who had the courage to launch this program back in 1947. Here's what she had to say accepting a Peabody award, on the mission of "Meet the Press."

If Andrea Mitchell indeed were told the newsroom was no place for a woman- a claim it would be impolitic to question- she spoke to a person (a man, we are to assume) who was narrow-minded. Instead, he should have told her "we'd love to have more female reporters or women on camera but not you." Further, any skill Andrea Mitchell demonstrated in her early years as a reporter on local television in Philadelphia has not only eroded, but been reversed as the years drone by and she increasingly fails as a cable news host. Perhaps she and husband Alan Greenspan need the money.

If we looked objectively at the general issue of the quality of the personalities on cable news and specifically Welker, we'd find it ironic that Welker would assert

I'm here because she and other fearless women never stopped fighting for their places in the newsroom. And now, all five Sunday shows are moderated or co-moderated by women. So to Martha, Margaret, Dana, and Shannon – I am incredibly honored to join you on Sunday mornings.

There she is, incredibly honored again and if you don't believe me, just ask her. Were I a woman, I would not point out "all five Sunday shows are moderated or co-moderated by women."  We don't know whether women are well-represented throughout the news industry or at least the cable news industry, a subject Welker appears disinterested in. However, we know that the proliferation of women in front of the camera has coincided with the steep decline in the importance of these shows, though whose inferior quality is unrelated to the gender of its hosts.

On Saturday, Charlie Pierce commented

This weekend, Kristen Welker takes over the chair of Meet The Press, a television dinosaur that should have found its tar-pit decades ago. (The same can be said of all The Sunday Showz. We essentially have Sunday Showz 24 hours out of every day on cable television. I'm all for bringing back Davey and Goliath on the Lord's day.)

Davey and Goliath, or perhaps an in-depth report on a couple of the important news events of the past week, with background and other context.  That is as unlikely as snow in Miami this month.  Pierce is wrong when he argues

It's silly to blame Welker and NBC for having him on the air. And it's probably unfair to Welker if she fails to get the former president* to break down and confess as though he were the surprise villain on an old episode of Perry Mason.

Oh no, it's not "silly" at all given that NBC knows about Welker, her weak performance generally and as moderator of one of the Biden-Trump 2020 debates.  The CNN "town hall" with Donald Trump conducted by Kaitlin Collins, sort of a Kristen Welker with journalistic chops, completely failed and yet- or perhaps therefore- NBC decided it should give the analogous crucial assignment to Welker. In their panel discussion following the interview, The New York Times' Peter Baker (before subtly walking it back) said the quiet part out loud:

Yeah, I was struck by how defiant he is. Defiant of you, defiant of the system, defiant of facts, right? He's just a bulldozer, shoveling falsehoods and lies throughout your interview, and you're – you’re fact-checking him all along the way.

Having correctly observed that Trump was "defiant of you, defiant of the system" and "just a bulldozer, shoveling falsehoods and lies throughout your interview," Baker remembered that criticism of the host on cable news is not a wise career move, checked himself after "you're," and added "you're fact-checking him all along the way." (Nice catch, Baker.)  Rather, her fact-checking was imprecise and ineffective, just as Collins' fact-checking had been ineffective. 

Pierce is right, though, that the news media cannot avoid giving an individual a platform when he may "may have his party's nomination" for President "wrapped up by Easter." However, it is by whom, and how, which matters. 

Kristen Welker addressed Mr. Trump on 25 occasions as "Mr. President."  Although an ex-President may be referred to as "President X," or "President Bush" or "President Trump," he should not be addressed as "Mr. President." In doing so, the Meet the Press interviewer gave Trump an honorific he no longer deserves and placed him on a pedestal no ex-President warrants.

Moreover, Donald Trump cannot be effectively interviewed by a Welker or a Collins or any other female or male journalist of that sort. He must be interviewed by a man or a woman who is preternaturally confrontational- even loud- and able to switch his/her affect seamlessly.

That would include laughing at the interviewee at the right times, not unlike the manner in which vice-presidential nominee Joe Biden to his advantage periodically chuckled at the absurdity of remarks of vice-presidential nominee Paul Ryan in their debate in 2008. The interviewer of Trump should be someone with the force of personality to put the GOP candidate on the defensive and unnerve him.

This needn't be someone who normally warrants a Pulitzer Prize or is necessarily the best journalist in a news network's stable. It would be someone whom Trump would personally attack at his own peril, a person unafraid at the propitious time(s) to channel effectively the anger of the her community toward Mr. Trump.

Handing Joy-Ann Reid this assignment would have resulted in the most fruitful, let alone most interesting, interaction. Perhaps Donald Trump would have refused to be interviewed by her, in which case a real news organization would reply "we make our assignments ourselves. If you don't like it, take a hike."

How fitting that would be. In her remarks at the close of Meet the Press, Kristen Welker saluted "all the women, all the people of color who have been trailblazers." The interview should have been conducted by Reid, who is a woman "of color" and who, if NBC had been interested, would have performed this particular task as it should have been.

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