I want to capture for you a little moment today on the Sunday shows.
It came during Brian Stelter’s lengthy and of course contentious interview with Kellyanne Conway on CNN’s Reliable Sources. (I watch so you don’t have to…) Something happened during the struggle that I believe sheds light on a question that a great many people have about such interviews. Why do the networks keep doing it?
I tried to answer that in January of 2017. Everything I wrote then still appplies, including “they’re never going to stop with @KellyannePolls. Never! She’ll be on TV for as long as she works for Trump.”
Today Stelter had a starter question for Conway: If special counsel Robert Mueller has yet to make any report, how does President Trump know that Mueller has found no evidence of collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia? “Who’s telling him that?” Good question! A full 20 minutes later — with no commercial break — he had gotten no answer, despite coming back to the same question at least five times (I counted.)
Which is exactly why people continue to ask: why do you have Kellyanne Conway on? On Sunday morning, before his show aired, Stelter asked his followers on Twitter:
— Brian Stelter (@brianstelter) May 20, 2018
1,500 people answered. Typical replies:
My question is for you, Brian. Why? What do you expect her to add to our knowledge?
— Dan Kennedy (@dankennedy_nu) May 20, 2018
Not a question for her, since she never answers them anyway, but a question for you (a serious one) – why do you keep having her on? I mean no snark by that, I am legitimately curious.
— ExpectMyResistance (@DTownForever) May 20, 2018
Stop having her on. Won’t be watching today.
— Elizabeth (@oncnurse0519) May 20, 2018
So that happened. Here’s something that happened on the show. Read carefully, or you might miss it.
Conway makes an offhand reference to “people on your side of the aisle…” The implication: Stelter is a Democratic party operative.
Stelter: I am not on any side of the aisle.
Conway: Oh yeah? Who did you vote for?
Stelter: I didn’t vote for president. I left that line on the ballot blank. Anyway, it’s not appropriate for you to ask me that.
Conway: Oh, so it’s appropriate for you to ask me things?
Stelter: “We asked you to come on the program because you’re representative of the President… that’s the point of the interview!”
Conway. Well, the President thinks there’s no collusion. And even you guys seem to be losing faith in that narrative. You now have Michael Avenatti on all the time. The Democrats promised evidence of collusion. Where is it? “You confused America and you wasted time talking about that,” instead of trade deals, national security, a prosperous economy. These things matter to people.
Stelter: They do matter.
Conway: “Look, if you think your job is to get the president and not get the story, you ought to just own it. Just say it. Because I know your viewers expect that now. Look at their comments all the time, ‘Don’t have Trump people on.’ They expect you to be reflexively, invectively anti-Trump, and that’s problematic.”
Stelter: “I’m glad you’re here! The goal is not to get the president, the goal is to get the truth. There’s a lot of people lying…”
There! Did you catch it? Kellyanne Conway knows that a whole lot of Stelter’s viewers don’t understand why he and the rest of CNN (Jake Tapper, Dana Bash, Chris Cuomo) continue to fence with her when the informational results are so thin. She brings up their complaints, but inflates and distorts them to make the critics sound as unreasonable as possible. (“Don’t have Trump people on.”)
Instead of siding with his puzzled viewers (“Well, Kellyanne, maybe they’re just frustrated, like I am, that I cannot get an answer to my original question, after six tries…”) Stelter places puzzled viewers in opposition to his own approach. That’s the moment I wanted to freeze for you. Some people may think there’s no point in listening to you, Kellyanne, but I’m not like that. I’m glad you’re here! (Go to 6:00 in this clip to see it yourself.)
Why does CNN continue to have Kellyanne Conway on its shows? Stephen Colbert asked Tapper that directly…
Colbert asked. “Kellyanne Conway — why have her on TV? She is a collection of deceptions with a blonde wig stapled on top.” Tapper didn’t disagree, exactly, but he said he thinks “sometimes it’s worth it to have people on so you can challenge the very notion of the facts that are being disregarded and the lies that are being told.”
So that’s one answer: We may know with a high degree of probability that facts will be disregarded and lies will be told, but the interview is a chance for us to challenge that. From Reliable Sources today came a different answer. Interviewing Kellyanne Conway places us in opposition to our core audience— which is exactly why we do it, Kellyanne. To prove to the world how open we are to your voice, even when “they” are not. And we’re thrilled to have you here.
“I’m happy to be here!” she exclaimed, smiling.
100s of people have asked this today. Answer: Conway is a key W.H. aide. She speaks to POTUS. She reps the POV of many Trump voters. So, I strive for thought-provoking Q's. I think her answers AND non-answers are revealing. Judge the transcript: https://t.co/kjSLI37qls https://t.co/aNVmoDjvQv
— Brian Stelter (@brianstelter) May 20, 2018