Meet the Press is Failing to Meet the Moment

What Good is a Free Press without the Wisdom and Courage to Use It to Protect Democracy?

Rusty D. Pickens
15 min readSep 16, 2023

I am trying to regulate my intake of news lately — as a matter of self-care more than anything else. Since 2015, it’s been a never ending storm of politics that have gone beyond the pale. 24-hour news cycles curated by producers addicted to the steady stream of ever-shorter sound bites, clicks and “engagement”, and attention-grabbing media centering around the absolute disaster of a human being in the form of Donald Trump. It’s all too much for a person to grapple with on the daily — even for discerning information consumers that I am trying to be. But being an informed citizen of the United States demands that I remain engaged and speak up on these current events.

My grandfathers both served in World War II — and even though I was too young to have these conversations with them, I like to think they recognized evil when they saw it and did everything in their power to defend democracy and use their voice and energy to stop it. I like to think there’s a strain of that in me. I entered politics at a time when we felt strongly that lying the country into 20-years of war was not way to operate. That government was composed of good people and should provide for the common wealth of our country. That leaders were meant to display good judgement and set a higher standard for folks to aspire to. These past eight years have been difficult to reconcile against my previous world view — I’ve had to adapt. My friends tell me I’m unreasonable and that my “old testament justice” view of our politics is out of step and unrealistic. I disagree. I believe we are in perilous days as our country and that we are in more gravely in danger of losing our free and fair democracy than any time since the 1940s. And that this threat demands a heightened level of attention and response from all sectors.

Just as I’ve had to adapt, I‘ve been frustrated by the notable absence of proper framing and journalistic integrity in our information ecosystem since Trump brought his carnival barking to the national political stage. Everywhere I look, we are trying to apply the old standards, of a time when people had reasonable policy disagreements— but could still debate as rational citizens working toward a common goal of a better America. But those standards don’t apply anymore — and those tactics don’t work in the current information ecosystem us anymore.

As we learned this week, this is a lesson that one of our oldest institutions of political journalism has clearly failed to grasp.

Since we lost Tim Russert in 2008, Chuck Todd has muddled along to helm Meet the Press. Chuck used to be one of my favorite journalists when he was on the White House beat. During my time in the Obama administration I would give tours of the West Wing and always point out his seat in the Press Briefing Room as one of the finest in the business. And he was — for those days when honest brokers had genuine discussions around the future of the country.

But for years now he — and Meet the Press as an institution — has failed to meet the moment. He has attempted to apply those standards to a man — and now an entire political movement and criminal enterprise— that has no standards, no policy positions, and no coherent political strategy other than to win at all costs at any given moment. They are not working toward a common goal of a better America — they are only in public life to further their own goals of power and greed. America, to them, happens to be a tool that is useful from time to time to bend our public institutions to their will — they believe government exists to further their personal goals instead of serving the American people and providing for the common wealth.

The fundamental challenge for us in this moment is that the old playbook of covering politics can no longer be used to cover a political system where a full half of the participants have chosen that dark path of “me” over “we” — of putting power over public service.

I have screamed at my television when Chuck let liars off the hook or allowed them to squeeze in an extra talking point but refused to challenge it because he had to cut to commercial. Where he invites “luminaries” from right-wing think tanks to his panels for the appearance of balance — all while they shill for Trump and offer their “analysis” that only serves to normalize this abhorrent behavior. I have stopped recording Meet the Press and changed my Sunday morning habits to no longer include that hour as a ritual to be performed weekly.

But even still — for a time I mourned the loss of what Meet the Press once was and what it meant to our political discourse. And I held out hope that a new moderator might return it to its former glory. But apparently I was wrong.

Apoplectic — that’s the right word — I have been apoplectic for two days now after learning that the first major guest for the first episode of this American institution under new leadership was none other than: the man who tried to violently overthrow the United States Government in order to retain the power of the Presidency.

Kristen Welker, in her first and hopefully last episode as moderator of Meet the Press attempting to interview the failed criminal ringleader of the 2021 Insurrection. (NBC News)

I thought it was a joke. I had to verify it from three other outlets just to confirm that NBC, Kristen Welker, and apparently an entire team of professional producers and journalists thought that this was the proper move to put forward as their first big re-entry into a new era of Meet the Press. The poor judgement of this decision, at a moment when America needs journalists to step to the forefront and defend truthful news reporting most, is astounding.

A Front Row Seat to the end of American Democracy might be a better episode headline for this Sunday’s Meet the Press. Giving airtime and a platform to an unapologetic, fascist, wannabe dictator may very well go down as one of the final moves that send the United States spiraling out.

The Economist’s Democracy Index has had America listed as a flawed democracy for a few years now. And with our oldest and most revered political news program happily skipping along the path to authoritarian rule arm-in-arm with the fascists is a major reason why.

What good is a free press without the wisdom to realize the peril of this moment and their place —indeed their solemn responsibility — in meeting it? What good is a free press without the courage to redirect the tide of clickbait headlines, obsessions with ratings, shilling for advertiser revenue, and the general slide into whataboutism that is continuing to cover politics like a horse race or sports game that has so infected our information diets like a cancer? Why on earth would we interview the arsonist about how he plans to adjust his technique while the house of American democracy is still smoldering after we barely managed to put out the fire last time?

A deliberate choice to put Donald Trump on primetime news on the “longest running show on television” is such a colossal misjudgment that it marks the end of credibility for this institution and sounds the final alarm for American journalism to rally to adapt their tactics — or accelerate our demise as a country.

“We don’t negotiate with insurrectionists.” is a pretty good rule for this new information economy.

These new rules are pretty simple in my opinion. They include some common sense guidelines that I think many of us have learned the hard way since 2015: You should call a lie a lie — and you should call liars who tell those lies liars. Anything else fails the standard.

You should not use your platform or your responsibility to give “equal time” to dishonest brokers who you know will use it to be…dishonest. These people are using your platform, your airtime, your prestige as an institution for their own gain — you aren’t working them, they are working you. Allowing them on your show at all, even before they’ve opened their mouths to tell their lies, gives them an air of legitimacy they should no longer be allowed.

“We don’t negotiate with insurrectionists” is a pretty good rule for this new information economy, too. But if you’re going to break that rule, leading with the question of “You urged your supporters to kill your Vice President, storm the Capitol to overthrow Congress, and were only barely stopped by reasonable people from mobilizing the United States military all so you could stay in power through violence and force as a last ditch effort after an election you knew you lost fair and square. So why do you think the American people should consider you a viable candidate for that same office once again?” might be a good question to open with. But you have to then be ready to pin him down from his pivot and the incoming mountain of lies that will escape his lips if you let him speak. And I am not convinced that Kristen Welker — at this moment when history demands our absolute best — is the best interviewer we as an American society could put forward to hold this man accountable.

They — specifically Trump but also his party and the new crop of politicians like Ron DeSantis, Kevin Stitt, Sarah Sanders, George Santos, Marjorie Taylor Greene, and Matt Gaetz who use his playbook daily — have consistently broken faith with the American people. They use their positions and their airtime to lie, manipulate, and gaslight the country. To continue to grant them any time at all to spread their cancer only shows how gullible and foolish we as a viewing audience and our media outlets still are.

There is only one framing, one comparison to be made today: truth, rule of law, and those truly pursuing a more perfect union. This is no longer about Republican versus Democrat, right versus left, or conservative versus liberal. This is about three camps of Americans: those of us paying attention and trying to save our institutions before we lose them, low-information voters who actually have lives, families, and jobs to attend to and might catch soundbite from outlets like Meet the Press on a weekend over coffee, and the criminal enterprise that has proudly chosen violence, lies, and a win-at-all-costs approach to gain and hold political power.

Meet the Press had a solemn responsibility to identify the criminal conspiracy enterprise and flag them as an enemy of the state — and then repeat that proper framing again and again so that it might crack through to that middle group: to the folks across America who don’t work in politics for a living and don’t make deeply informed decisions before heading to the ballot box. For Meet the Press to fail in that duty by welcoming the criminal ringleader onto prime time television is astoundingly stupid and unnecessarily putting us all at risk by normalizing this behavior into mainstream politics.

Meanwhile, in other dark corners of our dystopian information ecosystem, Trump appeared on the Meagan Kelly Show (the fact that she still has a show is a testimony to the dire times we live in) this week and was allowed to lie about the Presidential Records Act to a broad audience. He thinks that just because the words “Presidential” and “Records” are in the same sentence that the law actually gives him full and unilateral ownership over the classified documents he illegally stole from the American people. It shouldn’t take much to correct that record in real-time.

Elon Musk has declared war on the Anti-Defamation League for having the temerity to watchdog his re-platforming of white nationalists and unapologetic fascists onto his private propaganda network.

And if you need more evidence that critical thinking skills are in sharp decline, “concerned” white women at political conferences in DC this week feel like they’re somehow persecuted for blindly following a man who is trying his hardest to break every teaching Christ gave us are not that concerned about doubling-down on their support of him despite being a self-avowed sexual harasser and civilly adjudicated rapist as the right thing to do — because somehow this is all the Democrats fault.

And finally, after having gotten such unbelievable return on investment for their social influence campaign and top-notch espionage work in 2016, the Russians are taking a moment alongside trying to eradicate the fledgling democracy in Ukraine to predictably let the rest of the world know they think Trump is being politically persecuted.

This is the information ecosystem we’re surrounded by... Control of what people listen to, watch, and where they get the information fed into their brains is the great battlefield of our time. And those of us siding with truth and the Rule of Law are losing. We are losing because the professionals have abdicated by choosing to apply pre-2015 standards to this new media landscape where the authoritarians are openly broadcasting how they will wreck our democracy if given the chance a gain. A radical reframing and reset of our information standards is required.

What good is a free press if you use that privilege to invite the next authoritarian ruler to have a seat and explain to the country why he — as a twice impeached, four time indicted, 91-count (so far) accused felon — is still relevant to our political discourse? For the first time since the Civil War, our peaceful transition of power was disrupted by Donald Trump inciting open insurrection. Calling that out on the daily — in stark, fact-based terms — is the only thing that matters now. Bringing accountability for his crimes and behavior is the only thing that matters. Seeking justice under the Rule of Law is the only thing that matters. Trump must be removed from serious political discourse and constrained to answer for his crimes as the only topic of discussion he’s allowed.

He has only one hope: that he can still get himself out of trouble by spinning his mountain of lies in the public arena to eek out just enough votes to get back into office so he can bring the awesome might of our executive branch to bear on keeping himself out of jail. Giving him airtime on any platform at any time helps him further that goal. The rest of us — and Meet the Press specifically — have a deadly serious responsibility to make sure that the only place he is allowed to speak up is under oath at his multiple criminal trials.

In the meantime, it’s not all doom and gloom. There are still many great journalists doing great work — but maybe without the reach and formerly respected perch that Meet the Press once held. I urge you to check them out, vote with your clicks and dollars to support them. Critical thinking skills, social pressure, and a discernment in where we get our information is key to our necessary course correction.

Let NBC know how colossally stupid this move was by writing them.

Check out Allison Gill and Andy McCabe over at the Jack podcast to stay on top of all things related to the Special Counsel investigations.

Support Seth Abramson who has done a consistent and amazing job sounding the alarm in shocking detail about all this criming that Trump Inc. has been perpetrating on the American people for decades.

If you have to use social media, is a breath of fresh air for us Twitter refugees. (And if you aren’t off Twitter/X — DELETE YOUR ACCOUNT NOW.)

For a good retracing of history that will help you better frame these moments and cut through the noise, Rachel Maddow’s Ultra takes you through the last time we suffered an attempted insurrection and Long Shadow traces the cancerous strains of right-wing extremism through Ruby Ridge, Waco, and Oklahoma City all the way to January 6th and beyond.

EDIT 9/18/23 after the episode aired:

I was cautiously hopeful that after putting MTP and Welker on-blast about this ridiculous situation, that I’d have been proven wrong and the interview would have crippled Trump’s public-persona and Welker might executed a master-class in how to interview narcissists on national television — but again I was wrong.

The whole episode was brutal with a good 35–45 mins of it being painfully trying to follow along with Trump’s broken speech and complete inability to articulate a cogent point. It remains 100% clear that the man has zero grasp of foreign policy and only the most tactic, transactional relationship with domestic policy.

But beyond it not being entertaining or informative, the truly sinister risk that I’ve pointed out above was on full display. Trump used every second of his airtime to push his own lies, deflect from accountability, obfuscate the truth by spewing more lies, and ultimately try to spin himself as the victim and/or simultaneously the only person in America who can solve some ambiguous problems he perceives with how President Biden is currently running the country.

And — of course — the vast majority of the time he gets away with it completely unchallenged, uninterrupted, without real-time fact-checks, and allowed to continue steamrolling forward to leave the the truth as a casualty in his wake.

A few highlights for me that stood out — net-new lies he was allowed to shop around on the national platform that Meet the Press gave him yesterday:

  • That, in fact, it wasn’t him at all who was responsible for the January 6th insurrection: that it was actually Nancy Pelosi for “refusing 10,000 troops three days beforehand”. Which is a lie. And which Pelosi’s office immediately issued a statement about
  • That Cassidy Hutchinson is a liar and totally fabricated the story of Trump getting into a shouting match and/or a arm-wrestling contest with the Secret Service about going to the Capitol after the rally on the Ellipse on the 6th. (I wonder who has incentive to lie here — and who was under oath for each set of statements?)
  • That he didn’t direct anyone at Mar-a-Lago to destroy or withhold security footage and he would testify under oath to that. While we know that the IT director in that case has likely flipped to testify against Trump, that there is likely video footage that still remains in evidence that will disprove that fact, and that for Trump to testify in the case would mean almost certain doom for his prospects of acquittal. But, again, because Meet the Press allowed the man on the air, he gets to claim to a First Amendment protected audience that he’ll testify without actually having to go under oath or do it when it really counts in a court of law
  • That — after a good ten minutes of rambling — he can’t name a good number of weeks where he’d be comfortable limiting abortions. But he knows that 15-weeks when “people are talking about it” to him is good, but bad when DeSantis does it in law — and even worse when DeSantis does it again a 6-week ban. He also continued to lie about Democrats of wanting to rip babies out of their mother’s womb and murder them after birth (my paraphrase) which is absolutely not the case at all.
  • That James Comer has “12 things where it looks like it’s stone-cold guilty” for the Bidens, but isn’t pressed further to expand on which ones nor bring forward any credible evidence to support those assertion. (Sounding a lot like “but her emails” all over again). In fact, so far any and all of those endeavors have come up empty-handed by the House Majority
  • That he’d be able to broker peace in Ukraine within 24-hours — presumably by just giving away Crimea to Russia. Nevermind the fact that Trump’s whole M.O. is that of a witting or unwitting Russian asset and that his “deal making” skills don’t actually include the ability to give away the sovereign territory of another country under armed occupation by another

So here we are in the twilight of accountable journalism—apparently putting the insurrectionist-in-chief on television to chase ratings or further Kristen Welker’s professional career as the only plausible motivations for why this decision was made — because we didn’t get any substantial news generated nor persuade anybody from either political camp on the other side of that disastrous interview.

But to further add insult to injury, the whole interview was taped ahead of time and released in edited segments on Sunday. So not only is Meet the Press derelict of duty during the in-person, real-time interview, they can’t even get themselves together to edit the tape back in a way that doesn’t perpetuate the lies or fact-check Trump in real time.

Astoundingly, they did a fact check of the interview, but it was posted by another reporter as a wholly separate article on the site — which apparently went life at 10am when the interview aired! The malpractice of journalism is astounding.

It’s pretty clear that Meet the Press leadership and NBC went into this whole thing planning a full-blown MTP roll-out and reboot under Welker’s new regime — but I continue to dissent and question the motives of an outlet charged with the highest duties of ensuring integrity in the our information economy with such willful disregard for the grave risk it presents to our country to normalize this authoritarian behavior.

Perhaps the only silver lining in this is that Trump did proclaim that “It was my decision” about deciding to continue to contest the election. Whether that small snippet might ever be admitted into evidence or turn up in front a jury remains to be seen. But even still, the latitude for the other 99% of his airtime on this segment to work in his favor by peddling more lies much more than outweighs the damage done to the country and the average-information voter going into this crucial election cycle.

For now, I won’t be watching MTP any longer — and I will continue urging everyone to put their critical thinking skills to work and stop supporting lowest-common denominator journalism like that on display this weekend on “the longest running show on television.”



Rusty D. Pickens

#Geek using my powers of technology for better government. Founder of @580Strategies - Former @ObamaWhiteHouse and @StateDept