David Muir and World News Tonight have been on a serious roll lately. WNT has averaged far more viewers than any other evening newscast for a year and a half straight and more total viewers than any other show on American television for three weeks straight.
As popular as the anchor and the newscast are these days, many media reporters, observers and critics felt Muir’s interview with President Trump yesterday could have been far better.
CNN reporter and resident Trump fact-checker Daniel Dale tweeted:
A thing about Trump is that he tells the same lies over and over. I have no expectations for “interviewers” from Fox, but it’s not that hard for others who get to talk to him to come prepared and willing to respond with facts.
— Daniel Dale (@ddale8) May 6, 2020
In the CNN Reliable Sources newsletter, Oliver Darcy writes:
“When he sat down to interview President Trump, David Muir had an enormous responsibility on his hands. Muir had been granted Trump’s first television interview outside the Fox-verse since the coronavirus pandemic upended American life …
“Muir’s interview was an opportunity to prosecute Trump on these issues and his conduct amid the crisis. It was an opportunity to ask him important Q’s and hold his feet to the fire in a way that isn’t done on Fox and can’t be done in the briefing room. But Muir missed. The interview didn’t elicit any big news. Muir didn’t challenge Trump in any meaningful way. And worst of all, Muir allowed the president to float brazen misinformation with no pushback to his 10 million+ viewers …
“To see Trump float brazen misinfo to Muir and watch him accept the answers was … disappointing to say the least. As CNN’s Daniel Dale noted, ‘A thing about Trump is that he tells the same lies over and over. I have no expectations for ‘interviewers’ from Fox, but it’s not that hard for others who get to talk to him to come prepared and willing to respond with facts.’ Unfortunately, Muir failed to meet the moment.”
The Columbia Journalism Review didn’t love the performance either:
“Trump sitting down with an interviewer who isn’t a sycophant is a sufficiently rare opportunity that the most should always be made of it. Muir, some critics said, did not take his; CNN’s Oliver Darcy wrote afterward that the interview was a ‘miss’ and had ‘failed to meet the moment.’ Muir took a measured approach, and focused on big-picture issues—the risks of reopening the economy, testing, what Trump would say to Americans who’ve lost loved ones to the virus—away from Washington intrigue.
“Flame-throwers don’t always make the best interviewers. But to be effective, Muir needed to be forensic in his follow-up questions; instead, he let the president wriggle off the hook. He did not press the president on reports that he plans to “wind down” his coronavirus task force. At one point, Trump blamed the Obama administration for ‘broken tests’ and other logistical failures that have hindered the virus response. Muir seemed to take that assertion as fact. As Darcy noted afterward, the interview failed to make meaningful news. (The top headlines on the ABC News website this morning were ‘Trump to ABC’s Muir: It’s possible there will be some deaths as country reopens’ and ‘President Trump to Americans who’ve lost loved ones to the coronavirus: I love you.’”).
The Washington Post media critic Erik Wemple wrote: “Nearly five years into the Trump era, there’s little excuse for having poor comebacks to Trump’s telegraphed nonsense. Yet Muir’s session with Trump was filled with blown opportunity after blown opportunity to apprise the president of the truth.”
Not all of the reviews were rough, however. Poynter and Vox were outlets with positive things to say about Muir’s performance.
Poynter said that Muir’s questions “were tough but fair and not contentious,” adding, “A lot of that can be attributed to Muir’s professional demeanor, which wasn’t antagonistic. Muir’s time, you would assume given the format, was limited and didn’t allow for multiple follow-ups and real-time fact-checking. Still, Muir managed to plow through many topics and call out many of Trump’s past missteps. Ultimately, it was a more productive interview than what we often see in the White House press conferences.”
Vox, which leans left, called it “a train wreck interview”:
Donald Trump’s interview on ABC Tuesday illustrated why the president rarely strays from the friendly confines of Fox News. While Fox News hosts are content to let Trump rant and rave with little regard for lies or coherency, World News Tonight host David Muir sent Trump into a tailspin with a question that he should’ve seen coming: Why didn’t he do more to prepare for the coronavirus that has killed more than 72,000 Americans and counting? It was as though Trump had never thought about it before. And it wasn’t the only moment in which the president was flummoxed. He had no plan for bringing the spread of the virus under control and offered little beyond his widely criticized idea that states should reopen their economies swiftly — even as none has met the White House coronavirus task force’s criteria for doing so.
With an election six months away, and many polls showing the majority of Americans think the president’s handling of the Covid-19 pandemic has been poor, it appears the Trump team is willing to make their case with a variety networks, not limited to Fox News. For instance, last week Trump spoke to Reuters. Yesterday, it was Muir.
It’s doubtful he’ll sit down with CNN anytime soon, but more broadcast anchors could be in the future, considering their networks reach significantly larger audiences, including independents who might not be enamored with vp Biden at the moment.