Can presidential debate moderator Kristen Welker prevent chaos this time?
This Autumn's presidential debates have chewed up moderators.
President Donald Trump steamrolled Chris Wallace with constant interruptions in the first one, a performance that cost the Republican incumbent support in the polls. Susan Page struggled to make the vice-presidential candidates adhere to time limits their campaigns had agreed to in advance.
Next up: Kristen Welker.
The NBC News White House correspondent is scheduled to moderate Thursday's second and last session between Trump and Democrat Joe Biden.
Both of her predecessors came into the assignments with more experience. While Welker was one of four questioners at a Democratic presidential debate last Autumn, this is by far the 44-year-old journalist's biggest stage. Trump and his supporters have already tried to get in her head by attacking her in advance.
Colleague Savannah Guthrie's well-received (except by Trump) town hall with the president last week offered Welker a road map to success, but also may have ratcheted up the pressure.
“Kristen represents the best of NBC News and of journalism generally,” said her boss, NBC News President Noah Oppenheim. “She's fair, she's deeply prepared, she's well-versed in the issues and she's going to do a great job.”
The Philadelphia-born Welker has been with NBC News since 2010, after local news stints in Redding, California, Providence, Rhode Island and her home city. A former intern at the Today show, she now hosts the program's weekend edition.
She's the first Black woman to moderate a presidential debate since Carole Simpson in 1992.
Earlier this month, Trump aide Jason Miller said on Fox News that he has “a very high opinion” of Welker and suggested she would do an excellent job as moderator. She’s “very fair in her approach,” Miller said.
Yet last weekend, the president tweeted that Welker has “always been terrible and unfair, just like most of the Fake News reporters”.
It wasn't clear why she'd earned Trump's disapproval. Trump has questioned why Welker had disabled her Twitter account after C-SPAN's Steve Scully claimed — falsely, he later admitted — that he had been hacked. Scully was to have moderated an earlier debate that was cancelled.
NBC said the halt to Welker's Twitter account was temporary and done for security not to hide anything she may have tweeted in the past.
Some of Trump's supporters also dug up evidence that Welker's parents had contributed to Democratic campaigns in the past as a way of questioning her objectivity. There have been no such accusations levied against Welker, a registered independent.
Welker needs “to have the best night of her career,” Washington Post media critic Margaret Sullivan wrote this week. She needs to establish control in a way that Wallace and Page never did.
While Welker can't fact-check everything that is said in the debate, Sullivan said the NBC correspondent “can and must keep the debate from becoming a super-spreader of disinformation”.
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