CNN anchor shows how to effectively interview MAGA politician
After her dismal interview with Elise Stefanik, "Meet the Press"'s Kristen Welker could learn from Boris Sanchez. Unfortunately, there are reasons why we don't see more of this.
Criticism of the media is something you see a lot from me, particularly about TV reporters like “Meet the Press"'s Kristin Welker, regarding the pathetic access-driven coverage of the GOP and the pushing of "both sides" bullshit. So it is important to take note and commend someone when they do it right, and hope they influence others, even if the corporate media ecosystem operates in a way that inhibits that.
CNN’s afternoon weekday anchor, Boris Sanchez, very meticulously and respectfully—yet forcefully—exposed MAGA Missouri Secretary of State Jay Ashcroft as an extremist who was more intent on pushing empty, accusatory talking points than explaining an actual position.
It was a masterclass, as some noted, in how to interview a MAGA propagandist.
The topic was the removal of Donald Trump from the ballot by the Colorado Supreme Court and the Maine secretary of state. Ashcroft pushed the usual lines about how Democrats are attacking democracy—even though this is about courts and officials following the U.S. Constitution and their state election laws, as Sanchez said in correcting Ashcroft.
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But Ashcroft was intent on pushing lies and propaganda and claimed that nothing prevents a Republican secretary of state, himself included, or a conservative court from declaring Joe Biden engaged in an insurrection and then removing him from the ballot.
Sanchez didn’t hold back in demanding from Ashcroft exactly what Biden has done that would constitute an insurrection. It took me back to Welker and my piece from Monday about how she allowed Rep. Elise Stefanik, the MAGA House member from upstate New York, to call the January 6 imprisoned insurrectionists “hostages,” repeating Donald Trump’s horrendous claim at an Iowa rally.
Sanchez could have let it go with Ashcroft and ended the interview—as we’ve all too often seen, with the propaganda just hanging out there—but he took the time to draw Ashcroft out and expose his empty, defamatory talking point.
Sanchez asked what would be Ashcroft’s “justification for removing Joe Biden from the ballot in Missouri.”
“Has he engaged, in your mind, in some kind of insurrection?” Sanchez asked Missouri’s top election official, who last week threatened to remove Biden from his state’s ballot in retaliation for the actions regarding Trump in Colorado and Maine.
“There have been allegations that he’s engaged in insurrection,” Ashcroft replied.
“How so?” Sanchez asked.
“No. Please let me finish,” Ashcroft said.
Listeners to my SiriusXM program will note the same tactics used by MAGA callers to my show: the claim that I’m interrupting them and not letting them talk, when in fact I’m trying to focus them in on answering the question; deflection to other issues; and accusation of bias or questions thrown back at me, again, to change the subject or eat up time.
Of course, it’s a bit different on my program because these aren’t politicians and public figures and tend to be much more unhinged and sometimes engage in name-calling—and have to be dealt with appropriately. If they raise the temperature, I go there and match them, rather than be stomped on. But nonetheless, you see some of the similarities in tactics:
Sanchez told Ashcroft, “You can’t say something like that and not back it up.”
“I am continuing, but you interrupted me before I could back it up. Are you scared of the truth?” Ashcroft said.
“Oh, I am not terrified of the truth at all. It seems like you might be. Let’s hear what you have to say,” Sanchez countered.
The back-and-forth continued until Sanchez again asked: “What did Joe Biden do in your mind that equates insurrection? What allegations are you talking about?”
As Ashcroft alluded to vague allegations, the nature of which he did not explain, Sanchez asked for “specifics.”
“They made allegations, and all it took for former President Trump to be taken off the ballot in Colorado and in Maine were allegations,” Ashcroft said. “We should not be a country that removes people from the ballot based on allegations. I think you can agree with that.”
“I think it depends to a degree,” Sanchez replied.
Ashcroft then referred to Biden as Sanchez’s “guy.”
“My guy? Joe Biden is not my guy. You don’t know who my guy is,” Sanchez said. “The point is that it’s not clear whether the 14th Amendment is self-executing or not.”
“In other words, it doesn’t matter to a court at that point whether there was a conviction of Donald Trump for insurrection or not,” he went on. “That is a debate for the Supreme Court to have.”
Ashcroft was completely humiliated, as Salon accurately described, but honestly, he allowed that to happen. He brought the humiliation on himself.
The interview got a lot of attention, with various other news organizations writing about it. So, many people may wonder, Why don’t we see more of this?
I believe there are a few reasons, two of which I outlined in the piece on Welker and Stefanik: 1) Reporters come to the interview with a litany of questions and want to get to all of them, so they let crazy lies go unchecked in order to “move on”, allowing the MAGA propagandist to be unchallenged on claims; 2) Access journalism—fear of losing access—has them worried the subject won't come back and that their competition will get the future interviews and they’ll be cut out.
But there is another reason, one that attention to Sanchez’s interview underscores. And it’s a paradoxical one. Because the interview is so good, it’s actually out of the ordinary, when it should be normal. Thus it gets attention—the type of attention that makes the reporter part of the story, which is something reporters don’t like. And it gets pegged by some other news organizations as biased or wrong-headed. The Hill, for example, wrote about the Sanchez interview with this headline: “Missouri secretary of state, CNN anchor get heated in interview over Trump, ballots.”
Unfortunately, higher-ups at news organizations like CNN don’t like to see that kind of headline, with the anchor focused on and the interview described as “heated.” And in fact, there was nothing “heated” about it. Sanchez kept composed and respectful while staying sharply focused, and Ashcroft never seemed angry, if completely befuddled.
The Messenger had an even more incendiary headline: “CNN Interview Goes Off the Rails Over Missouri Official’s Promise to Boot Biden From State Ballot.”
So, a good interview in which the subject is forced to articulate the rationale behind hazy talking points—and can’t—is considered one that “goes off the rails.” Again, this is not how news organizations want their work characterized, and it’s an example of the media policing itself. They’re all in the access journalism game, so if somebody goes off the script and actually gets attention for it—and eyeballs—there has to be a penalty, an admonition, so that not too many others do the same. Otherwise, access journalism itself could be damaged.
I truly hope this doesn’t happen—and I’ve watched Sanchez and have respect for his work—but often when a situation like this arises, we see the same reporter soon interview a Democrat in a tough way, even though it’s unwarranted, wanting to make sure they’re showing they do it to “both sides.” (Sure, there are times when a Democrat should face the music, but it shouldn’t be contrived just to satisfy the media police.)
Or the anchors and reporters succumb to implicit or explicit pressure and just pull back, not wanting those headlines. So just look out for that. The truth is, we need much more of this unbiased, fair but tough interviewing that doesn’t allow for the promotion of lies. So kudos to Sanchez, and here’s hoping that people like Welker learn something from it.