NBC Broadcasts Nightly News From Trump Tower and Shows Why Trump Doesn't Need to Buy Ads

NBC did something more than a bit unusual last night… even by the slack standards of modern television news. They didn’t just go to interview Trump in his home, which is a practice that’s become fairly common for presidential candidates. NBC moved it’s entire Nightly News broadcast to Trump Tower, so viewers who tuned in to see Canadian wildfires or an update on Prince got their message against the gaudy gold and marble frippery characteristic of Trump.

In the midst of this far from neutral location, Lester Holt sat down to do a victory lap with Donald Trump, and in the process followed what’s become the standard NBC and Trump Two-step.

There’s a pattern in how NBC in particular, on both Today and on their other supposed news shows, handles an interview with Donald Trump. It does like this:

Step one: Start with a question that sounds somewhat firm. 

Step two: Let Trump say anything, no matter how factually challenged, unreasonable, wrong-headed, wrong-hearted, or just plain wrong.

Repeat. Notice that there’s no step in there for challenging Trump’s statements, doing a follow-up, or even asking for an explanation. That’s not part of the dance.

This allows you to later describe the interview as “hitting Trump with hard questions” or “peppering the candidate with challenging questions,” while never actually pressuring Trump for a single answer, or attempting to locate anything that looks like a fact. It’s a format that lets NBC pretend to be tough, lets Trump pretend to be prepared, and gives both sides a patina of having done a real interview. 

It works for everyone. Except the public.

Holt begins by congratulating Trump and asking him to name some of the people who have called to congratulate him. Other than Holt. Trump responds that Lester “wouldn’t believe who’s calling,” but says that he won’t name names. Trump also adds an anti-politician spin by saying that one person–again, no name–who said “such bad things” earlier tells him not to take seriously things people have said, “they’re politicians.”  Would it be interesting to know who said this? Maybe. But since Holt doesn’t ask, we don’t know.

Holt mentions to Trump a story from earlier in the newscast on the dissatisfaction in the party, which included an image of people burning Republican registration cards. This is as close as the interview comes to actually confronting Trump. It’s not very close. Trump responds that it’s unfair, because they didn’t show the millions, millions, millions and millions, of new voters who came out for him. Millions gets thrown in a couple of more times, along with “record” and “hottest story in politics.” Holt doesn’t follow up.

Instead he then drops the line of thought completely to ask Trump about his promised ban on Muslims coming into the US. Trump says he still means it, He rails against “what’s happening in Europe” and singles out Germany, which he says is “crime riddled.” Holt might be expected to note that the instances of violence in Germany have actually been very few. Or that the rate of violent crime in the US is three times higher than in Germany, or that the murder rate in the US is nineteen times higher than in Germany. He doesn’t. He simply lets Trump talk. And of course, Holt doesn’t challenge Trump’s characterization of the danger posed by immigrants. Instead Holt responds that this “sounds like an urgent problem,” reinforcing Trump’s position.

Trump segues to mentioning San Bernardino and Paris, and then rolls straight into describing Obama as weak and never saying the phrase “radical Muslim terrorist.” This has, of course, been disproven over and over. Does Holt mention that? Of course not. 

Holt asks Trump about his intention to deport every illegal immigrant, even those who have caused no issues. Trump again says that yes, he means it. Does Holt ask how Trump intends to carry out this massive task? He does not.

Holt pulls up some of the statistics on people who don’t like Trump—women, young people, immigrants, African-Americans, and asks Trump “how do you heal that, while still respecting those who got you here?” This is an astounding question. Implicit in the question is that the people who voted for Trump thus far did so because his statements were racist, misogynistic, and anti-immigrant. So how is Trump going to win America’s heart without putting off his cadre of bigoted supporters? Trump answers by not answering all, stating that he’s already seen a poll that puts him ahead of Hillary, and that he thinks he’ll “do very well with women.” 

“So you discard all these numbers?” says Holt. Make a note of it. It’s the closest thing to a follow-up question in the interview. Trump ignores it.

At this point, Holt invites Trump to attack Hillary. “Give me three words that you will use to define her,” he says. Following a format is not in Trump’s wiring. Instead he starts pulling up phrases from Bernie Sanders’ campaign, treating Sanders’ words as confirmation of his own opinions. “She’s not qualified to run for president because she suffers from bad judgement,” says Trump, merging a couple of Sanders’ themes. Trump then bounces to Hillary being “under FBI investigation” over the emails, and maintains that the only way she might avoid jail is “because the Democrats are protecting her, but that’s the only reason she’ll survive.” Holt says nothing—nothing—in response to this, allowing Trump to make this accusation with no challenge at all.

Instead Holt moves to a discussion of the tone of the campaign. Despite the fact that Trump has just accused Hillary of being an unqualified criminal, he sits while Trump maintains that he’d like to see “a high level campaign” and that “if they are fair, I’ll be fair.” You might think Holt would draw Trump’s attention back to the accusations he made ten seconds earlier. No. Instead Holt tosses accusations about Bill Clinton onto heap, asking if they’re fair. Sure they are. Trump goes on to state again how “beautiful” it would be to see a campaign on the issues. He just made completely unfounded accusations of criminal behavior and cover-up. Naturally, Holt doesn’t mention this.

Holt introduces comments that Hillary made about Trump, calling him a “loose cannon” and warning against his “blustering.” Ooh, those do sound mean! You know, in a 19th Century debate team way. Trump replies that it’s a “nasty term that was given to her by one of her pollsters.” He then declares that Hillary “isn’t strong” and “we need strength in this country.” Anyone with the least bit of historical sense might feel a chill at that line. Holt is chill proof. Trump runs through a litany of Hillary is not going to be strong here, Hillary is not going to be strong there, Hillary is not going to be strong anywhere, before mentioning her vote on Iraq.

Trump takes this opportunity to insert “I’ve been against Iraq for many, many years. I said it’s going to destabilize the Middle East.” This is a claim that Trump has made many times. However, not only did Trump not make these prescient statements about Iraq, Trump has already been forced to walk back this comment in a CNN Townhall when he was confronted with a comment he made in 2002 supporting going into Iraq. Does Holt stop Trump from going right back to his previous lies? He does not. He allows Trump to reclaim his magic eight-ball without a single peep.

Finance time. And this point Holt doesn’t start by giving Trump a slow-pitch, he just delivers Trump’s propaganda for him. Holt makes a point of mentioning that Trump has self-funded to this point, which isn’t true. Trump has loaned his campaign money which is an entirely different thing from contributing those funds to the campaign. If Trump takes funds from other sources at this point, he can simply repay himself and be out little more than pocket change. But Holt explains none of that while talking about how donations can lead to “bad influence.” There’s a bit of back and forth on Super-PACs, all of it light as popcorn, because “people maybe like me and they form a Super-PAC.”

Trump then makes the most insightful statement of the whole interview while discussing the idea of raising big funds for his campaign. “I’m not sure it’s necessary. I have a big voice. I go on shows like yours and explain the truth, and people seem to go along with it.” He understands quite well that the free, fawning publicity which the media awards him in quantities much greater than any other candidate have allowed him to match “governor and senators” while barely opening his wallet. He doesn’t need to pay for media. They give it to him. In his own response Trump expresses apparent surprise at what he’s getting away with. Holt isn’t surprised.

Holt has one last question that might potentially elicit some actual information–something that’s been conspicuously absent from the interview so far. He asks Trump about his taxes, which haven’t been made public, and about the audit Trump has claimed as the reason for not releasing the taxes. Trump maintains that he gets audited all the time, and that it seems unfair.

And… that’s all the time we have thank you.

In the whole interview, Holt doesn’t land a glove on Trump… because he doesn’t try. His intention at every opportunity is not to extract the facts, but to allow Trump to give a mini-speech.

What do we learn from this interview? Politicians are tricky, Muslims are bad, Europe is overrun with criminal immigrants, Obama is a weakling who will never say “Islamic terrorist,” and Hillary is a crook protected by a cover-up who should be in jail. Not one of those statements gets challenged.

What about Trump? Trump is a far-seeing thinker who knew that Iraq was bad before anyone else, who is beloved by everyone, who is fielding hundreds of phone calls from people who want to be on his team, who is free of bad-influence, and only wants to run a beautiful high-minded campaign. All of that gets a pass.

Trump is certainly right about one thing. There’s no reason to buy ads when this kind of media is free.

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