Hiltzik: Kristen Welker’s tragic failure

When Chuck Todd announced in June that he would retire as host of “Meet the Press,” few people who take politics seriously breathed a sigh of relief: Todd’s insight-free, no-nonsense, both-sides-do-it horse race news approach.

The NBC News publicity machine immediately touted Todd’s successor, Kristen Welker, as a tough, whip-smart journalist, “dogged” and adept at “sharp questioning of lawmakers.”

That entire PR edifice came crashing down Sunday, when Welker was steamrollered by Donald Trump on national television.

Are there any circumstances that would make you want to run for a third term in office?

— Kristen Welker asks Trump the dumbest question ever

Welker’s interview with the former president, presented as his inauguration as the show’s new moderator, served as another demonstration of the impossibility — and irresponsibility — of treating Trump as a normal political figure.

Treating Trump to his own level despite ample evidence — spanning four years of Trump’s presidency and as recently as May, when Trump chewed out CNN anchor Kaitlan Collins in a misconceived town hall — was a no-brainer, NBC News said, up front and hopelessly. The unprepared journalist was humiliated. It was a milestone in the decline of network news power and the tendency to hold politicians accountable.

What Trump got was an almost hour-long, largely unregulated campaign platform, for free, a chance to show once again that he’s a terrible exploiter of television trends that drag everyone down to the level of their self-esteem.

For Welker, a sharp questioner of lawmakers, nothing remains. Here is a fair sample of his appearance during the interview (drawn from the full official transcript of the encounter, only a portion of which was shown during the broadcast):

“But Mr. President—”

“Though, Mr. President, let’s stay on track.”

“Mr. President, we have a lot to cover.”

“You had—”

“You—Mr. President—”

“But, give me, give me, but Mr. President—”

“Mr. President, let me ask this question, please—”

etc. etc.

No journalist could survive Trump’s one-on-one assault on the truth. The closest Trump came to mumbling was then Axios’ Jonathan Swan, who interviewed him for an HBO program in 2020.

Swann, an Australian, was apparently raised on the British tradition of allowing television interviewers to interrogate politicians with all the honor and respect they deserve, which is to say: none. But a new look at the interview shows that even Swann pushed hard to put Trump on the hot seat and mostly failed.

In contrast, Welker was drawn to the American tradition of treating every politician, even those involved in attempts to subvert the democratic tradition, with great decency. As a result, Trump got stuck in his flat.

The transcript fails to explain how many times Trump’s bollocksed Welker stepped in with his own questions. Trump provided extreme injury Late in the program, when he complained to Welker, “You’re interrupting me.”

Welker allowed Trump to spout lie after lie in what I described as his “gish gallop,” a tactic named for a notorious creationist who used to manipulate debates with evolutionists by “spewing a stream of fallacies at evolutionists. A prayer of rebuttal in the form of a debate.”

Welker tried here and there to counter Trump’s lies, but overall he failed miserably; They just keep coming at great speed. But he has shown utter ignorance of many of the issues he himself has raised. NBC News posted a “fact check” online after the broadcast, but at just 1,800 words it probably didn’t set the record straight.

Let’s take a look at some of Trump’s most egregious lies.

On abortion, Trump claimed that Democrats favor allowing abortions “at five months, six months, seven months, eight months, nine months and even after birth.”

Postnatal abortion is not only an anomaly in terms of a late abortion not because of a casual decision not to proceed with the birth, but because the fetus is not viable or suffers from gross deformity or the pregnancy poses a threat to a woman’s health.

Welker’s response to this was a one, “Only 1% of late-term miscarriages occur.”

When Welker asked about the consequences of anti-abortion laws in red states – “How is it acceptable in America that women’s lives are at risk, that doctors are forced to turn away patients in need, or risk breaking the law?” – Trump simply failed to provide an answer, and Welker failed to emphasize one.

Trump has claimed that abortion is a “50/50 issue,” meaning the US public is evenly split. It’s not true.

According to Gallup, 67% of Americans believe that abortion should be legal in the first three months of pregnancy – the first 90 days. The strictest anti-abortion laws enacted in red states do not allow abortions or limit them to the first six weeks, a time when many women do not even know they are pregnant.

Importantly, Gallup found that 58% consistently oppose the Supreme Court’s 2022 ruling in Roe v. Wade, which guaranteed abortion rights nationwide. Trump has long bragged about establishing a majority of the Court overturning the 1973 ruling.

Trump has defended his efforts to overturn the 2020 election, including his infamous call to Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger urging him to find enough votes to flip the Georgia results from Joe Biden to himself. He said Raffensperger “again said last week that I did nothing wrong… ‘It was a compromise,'” Raffensperger said. “

This is a lie. Raffensperger didn’t say Trump did anything wrong. At a federal court hearing last month on a motion by Trump’s former chief of staff Mark Meadows to stand trial on charges of conspiring to overturn the 2020 election, Raffensperger was asked point-blank by the judge whether the call was a “discussion.” ” He replied that it was not.

Trump is also charged in that case, brought by Fulton County Dist. Atti. Fanny Willis.

Turning to economic issues, Trump claimed that his 2017 tax cuts, which went mostly to corporations and the wealthy, “created tremendous jobs… More importantly, we had more revenue with lower taxes than higher taxes.” These claims are false or highly misleading.

Job growth under Trump fell short of the mark set by former President Obama. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, in the first three years of the Trump administration (excluding 2020, when the pandemic caused massive job losses), 6.36 million jobs were created; Over the last three years of the Obama administration, 8 million jobs have been created.

In the two years following the tax cuts, job growth was modest — 2.3 million new jobs in 2019, and 2 million in 2019. Which was worse than the annual figures for 2013-16. Under Biden, incidentally, some 14 million jobs have been created as part of the post-pandemic recovery.

Higher revenues after tax cuts and jobs legislation? No not really.

Corporate income tax receipts fell to $224.9 billion in 2018, down from $230.34 billion the previous year, and fell again to $210.45 billion in 2019. Personal income tax receipts held their own in 2018, coming in at $1.615 trillion, up slightly from $1.615 trillion. rising to $1.7 trillion in 2020.

But those figures fall significantly below those projected by the Congressional Budget Office in 2017 — to $275 billion, or 7.6% of pre-tax projected revenues, the Brookings Institution calculated.

Put it all together, and Brookings found that despite the promises of conservatives, “the TCJA has not paid for itself and is not likely to in the future.”

Welker, of course, was not fully equipped to back down on Trump’s jobs and revenue demands. He simply blamed the epidemic, even though the consequences of the tax cuts were felt long before that.

What’s most striking is that almost none of Trump’s lies are new — he’s been telling most of them nonstop. So how could Welker be so unwilling to talk to them?

Given that the quality of Welker’s interrogation has cleared the bottom of the barrel, it’s hard to pinpoint the lowest of the low notes.

My vote for the single dumbest question he put to Trump is this, which was not heard during Sunday’s broadcast but appears in the full transcript: “Is there a scenario by which you want to get a third term?”

Putting aside the fact that Trump has only served a single term, lost his bid for a second term and is not yet the official GOP candidate for the 2024 campaign, there is this little thing known as the 22nd Amendment to the US Constitution.

That amendment clearly stated, in black-and-white language, “No person shall be elected to the office of President more than twice.”

Perhaps Welker hasn’t had a chance to learn about it yet, it’s only been around since 1951.

Trump was probably too tactful to answer his question; He turned it into an attack on Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, who is challenging him for the nomination.

But one can only ask: What was Welker thinking? Was this Trump’s way of asking if he would do an anti-constitutional coup? If so, why not ask that directly?

And where were the NBC News staff, who must have been in the room at Trump’s New Jersey golf club where the interview took place? Didn’t anyone say, “Er, Kristen…”

So that was it. “If you have time, I think we’d like to get a little shot of walking together,” Welker politely asked Trump at the end of the interview. Because, of course, what matters to NBC News and its allied TV ventures are optics.

If extracting information from an interview subject is important to you, however, don’t expect it from NBC or “Meet the Press.”

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