Savannah Guthrie showed more than just her journalistic chops at NBC News’ City Hall with President Donald Trump. She changed the subject for her bosses.
NBC was heading for Thursday’s event, under wide criticism for planning it at the same time as ABC’s town hall with Democratic opponent Joe Biden. NBC was accused of rewarding Trump for rejecting the debate commission’s plan to conduct the second debate virtually.
It was quickly forgotten as the president sat down with Guthrie, who specifically asked him when he last tested positive for COVID-1
The Georgetown Law School graduate had clearly done his homework, apparently prepared for every answer. When the president recited a statistic from a study on the effectiveness of masks for spreading COVID-19, Guthrie had also read it and countered him.
As the host of the show “Today”, Guthrie knows the importance of time and how to stop an interview topic from filibustering. This background also teaches how to crystallize what an audience thinks in a common way, as evidenced by her most quoted moment.
She was incredible when, after asking why Trump had retweeted a false conspiracy theory that US special forces did not really kill Osama bin Laden, he said he “just put it out there” to let people decide for themselves.
“I can not understand that,” said Guthrie. “You are the president. You’re not like you’re a crazy uncle who can just retweet everything. ”
Similarly, Guthrie described the theory put forward online by QAnon that Democrats run a satanic pedophile ring, and that Trump was the savior who was supposed to stop them, and asked why he did not condemn it. Trump said he knew nothing about it.
“I just told you that,” she said.
Just because she says something does not mean it is true, the president replied.
“There is not a satanic pedophile cult,” she said. “Do you not know?”
Trump is “hands down” the hardest public figure to interview, said Axios reporter Jonathan Swan, who along with Fox News’ Chris Wallace and now Guthrie has received the highest praise from any TV journalist for taking him on this election cycle.
“The biggest challenge with President Trump is that it’s never a linear conversation,” Swan said. “It’s like driving a bronco. The design of the questions does not really matter because he responds to topics. ”
It takes tremendous homework, both knowing the facts and predicting how Trump will react, he said. Even then, it is possible to become so preoccupied with fact-checking that it disrupts the flow of conversation, he said.
When Guthrie asked Trump about his personal finances and taxes, the president tried to interrupt the conversation by saying what he has since 2016 that he could not talk about it because he was under review. Guthrie said there was no law preventing anyone being audited from discussing his tax, and pressed, “Who do you owe $ 421 million to?” she asked.
She jumped in when the president, during a discussion about events in the White House where no masks were used, mentioned how he was touched by people at a reception for relatives of military members killed in service.
“Do you think a grieving military family gave you COVID,” she asked.
She took unusual time for head-to-head interrogation as the format required questions from the audience to dominate the event. She also followed up on the audience’s questions: When Trump talked about health care and maintaining protection for pre-existing conditions, Guthrie pointed out that his administration was trying in court to remove it.
A look online provided an illustration of Guthrie’s effectiveness. Words like “condescending,” “badger,” “argumentative” and “bullying” were used on social media by supporters of the president. Memes appeared with Guthrie’s face resembling a vampire or devil.
“Why does anyone take Savannah Guthrie seriously?” tweeted conservative talk show host Buck Sexton. “She was clownish and shrill last night. Just awful. ”
Before a performance in Florida on Friday, Trump called his experience with Guthrie “small potatoes.”
“If you can not handle Savannah, you can not handle Putin and President Xi and Kim Jong Un,” he said.
But it clearly hung with him. He brought up the interview again at another meeting in Macon, Georgia: “Last night I was, in my opinion, out of the queue. She was out of the queue. ”
The Nielsen company said on Friday afternoon that Biden town hall reached 14.1 million people on ABC between kl. 20 and 21, and Trump had 13.5 million combined on NBC, CNBC and MSNBC.
Tim Murtaugh, spokesman for the Trump campaign, said that although the commission-sponsored debate was canceled on Thursday, “one thing happened anyway.” He said Guthrie played the role of debate opponent and Biden surrogate.
Still, the Vox website said she declared Guthrie one of the winners of Thursday night’s politics on television that her quick question marks, returns and fact-checking “probably made the White House wish they had just done the debate.”
In addition to giving NBC News executives a reprieve from dealing with online critics’ call for a boycott, Guthrie helped restore the glory of the show “Today.” Her former partner, Matt Lauer, received widespread criticism in 2016 for his interrogation during back-to-back interviews with Trump and Hillary Clinton.
NBC News said it would not make Guthrie or network leaders available to speak Friday about the show.
More than anyone, Axios’ Swan understands the high stakes involved when he interviews Trump.
“There is no doubt because the study of every interview he does is so intense that you can hurt yourself tremendously if you are not well prepared,” he said.