Elise Stefanik called Jan 6 criminals 'hostages.' 'Meet The Press' host let it pass without challenge.
NBC's Kristen Welker didn't slam the GOP House member when she cast convicted insurrectionists as patriots. That's a massive journalistic dereliction.
All over NBC News and the “Today Show” this morning, GOP Rep. Elise Stefanik was being allowed to promote conspiracy theories, lies, and Trumpist propaganda in clips from her Sunday “Meet the Press” inteview. Somehow, NBC sees “Meet the Press” host Kristen Welker’s extended interview with the mega-MAGA congresswoman as a success.
Or they just like eyeballs.
Whatever the case, the network is showcasing an interview that was largely a dismal failure, in which Stefanik, clearly auditioning to be Donald Trump’s running mate, spewed vile conspiracies and even attacked NBC News and Welker’s reporting, speaking at length and mostly unchallenged.
Let’s get this out of the way first, since I did watch the full 17-minute interview: Welker did follow up and push back on a few things, such as the idea of a “two-tiered justice system,” noting that “top Democrats” have been indicted, as well as Hunter Biden. And she mildly corrected Stefanik on some issues.
The Signorile Report is free and reader-supported. If you aren’t a paid subscriber, please consider taking advantage of the New Year’s special. For less than the cost of a cup of coffee per month, you can help support independent, ad-free opinion journalism. Thanks!
But mostly, Welker let Stefanik go on and on—not interjecting when the congresswoman spit out completely false talking points—and then Welker would correct one relatively minor comment among the hurricane of lies and say, “Let’s move on.”
And Welker allowed Stefanik to call the January 6th insurrectionists—many serving long prison sentences for attacking the Capitol, bludgeoning police officers, and damaging property in a brutal attack at which there were calls to hang the vice president and kill the speaker of the House—”hostages.” Yes, hostages!
That’s the term Trump used—“hostages”—over the weekend in Iowa, as he has cast the insurrectionists as patriots on that “beautiful day.”
This cuts to the core of the Big Lie and absolutely cannot go unchallenged. Any politician who calls criminals who’ve been sentenced for violently attacking Congress to overturn an election “hostages” is traitorous, seditious, anti-American, and completely unfit to serve in Congress. The Proud Boys, the Oath Keepers, and other groups planned and plotted. This was terrorism, and their plan was to actually take the building with weapons that were to be ferried up the Potomac.
Welker should have immediately said, “Excuse me, congresswoman. These people were sentenced for, among other things, violent attacks on police officers and violently trying to stop the certification of an election. The Proud Boys and others had plans to overtake the building. Do you really believe Donald Trump’s claim that they are ‘patriots’ and “hostages’?”
And you don’t let it go. You pin her down. And you slam her if she continues with propaganda and false statements: “These people engaged in an attack on our democracy. They are not hostages, and it is absolutely unacceptable for you to say that." Then end it and move on.
Don't let Stefanik continue it. Tell her it's over. (That is actually the time you say “we're moving on”). Let Stefanik get up and walk out. There simply cannot be an acceptance of that rhetoric.
Instead, Welker numerous times not only accepted the rhetoric but also allowed Stefanik to attack NBC News and Welker. Welker played a clip of Stefanik actually calling out the violence on January 6th on that night on the House floor, saying it was a “tragic day” and that violence is “unacceptable,” "anti-American,” and “must be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law.” This, of course, isn’t the kind of thing that Stefanik wants brought back and focused on now that she’s obviously wanting to be Trump’s VP running mate.
So a clearly annoyed Stefanik belligerently snapped, “As typical of NBC and the biased media, you played one excerpt of my speech.” This was ludicrous because whatever else she said in the speech (and she did vote against certification and expressed bogus claims about election fraud), on the issue of violence by the mob she clearly was at that time with the vast majority of Americans, all Democrats in the House, and many Republicans—before they caved again to Trump.
Welker could easily have pointed that out and expose her for trying the “out of context” ruse, not to mention that she should have defended NBC and her own reporting. But she didn’t, going back to January 6th and eliciting Stefanik's statement: “I have concerns about the treatment of January 6th hostages.” Worse yet, Stefanik said this “weaponization of the government” was also being used against all “conservatives” and, bizarrely, “Catholics.”
Journalistically, this was more gold for Welker. She got something big to now challenge Stefanik on and show her chops. And it was, as stated, something that absolutely could not stand. Instead, she challenged Stefanik on something else, then said, “We have a lot to get to,” and moved on.
Welker, in fact, said, “Let’s move on” a lot—but always at the wrong time, when she let’s horrible statements go unchallenged. And it doesn’t work because the subject always goes back to spewing more lies—unchallenged.
It reveals two problems with Welker’s interviewing technique—and that of many reporters speaking with Trump and MAGA leaders. First off, these interviewers come to the interview with a set of questions, and they want all of them addressed, as if they’re speaking with a normal politician and not a well-trained propagandist. Welker, for example, moved on from the hostage exchange without challenging Stefanik to asking if Stefanik would certify the 2024 election if Trump loses. Stefanik basically said no, not if it’s “not constitutional.”
That, too, was news—so I get it. These reporters want to cover a lot. They make snap judgments in the moment on whether or not to dwell on something these subjects say in their blizzard of distortions and lies. We saw this with Trump and his infamous CNN town hall last year. It’s surely not easy interviewing people who’ve trained themselves to throw out all kinds of garbage so that you can’t possibly correct everything.
But, again, something like the “hostages” line cannot stand. It cannot be allowed to become part of the narrative or part of a “both sides” discussion.
The second problem with Welker, however, is, once again, access journalism. People like Welker are afraid that the GOP House leadership won’t come back on their programs if they push too much. So Welker pulls her punches, calculates what to challenge, and makes a decision not to overly irritate the subject.
That is very faulty journalism. If you say something that corrects a falsehood and the subject gets up, walks out, and doesn’t ever return, then you’ve had a victory. You’ve done your job for the American people.
Instead, interviewers like Welker let GOP politicians like Stefanik set the terms of the interview and use mass media platforms to push propaganda and dangerous lies. That’s a dereliction of duty on a massive scale.