Journalists hail alumna Guthrie after Trump town hall

Oct. 16, 2020

 

University of Arizona School of Journalism alumna Savannah Guthrie of NBC News earned praise from many news outlets for her interviewing skills in a town hall with President Donald Trump on Oct. 15 in Miami.

In an analysis, New York Times White House correspondent Annie Karni said Guthrie got "answers from Trump by setting a fast pace and following up" as a moderator.

Jeremy Barr of the Washington Post said she "grilled Trump like few others have."

"Guthrie faced both praise and opprobrium on social media, where conservative critics lobbed insults at her and many Democrats praised her," Barr wrote.

When Trump declined to take responsibility for promoting a bin Laden conspiracy theory by arguing that he only retweeted "an opinion of someone," Guthrie responded: "You're the president. You're not like someone's crazy uncle who can retweet whatever."

The day after the town hall, Trump criticized Guthrie and her interviewing style, and former House speaker Newt Gingrich wrote a column for Fox News, saying, "Anyone who still doubts that the elite media is out to destroy President Trump should watch his NBC town hall."

Guthrie, co-anchor of NBC's "Today" show, is a 1993 UA J-school graduate. She was inducted into the UA School of Journalism Hall of Fame in 2018. Watch her acceptance speech.

"We’re so proud that Savannah Guthrie is one of our alums," said Prof. Carol Schwalbe, director of the J-school. "Her many supporters here in Tucson are cheering her on."

In comments on Facebook, J-school alumna Derrith Lambka ('82) said Guthrie "was outstanding."

"She knew the facts, checked the facts real-time and kept her focus on trying to get answers to the questions we the people want answers to," Lambka wrote. "She was professional and firm and in control.

"Makes me proud of the UA journalism program training we share."

Here are some more headlines and notable excerpts from the town hall:

Analysis

  • Mediaite: NBC’s Savannah Guthrie Hailed By Journalists for Relentless Interrogation of Trump at Town Hall: ‘Masterclass’
    • The praise was nearly universal.
    • “One of the best moments of Savannah Guthrie’s career,” CNN’s Brian Stelter wrote. He was not alone in expressing such glowing sentiments.
  • The New York Times: NBC’s Savannah Guthrie Grills Trump Opposite ABC’s Sober Biden Talk
    • The president is a skilled dodger who has outmaneuvered his interlocutors for four years. But Ms. Guthrie repeatedly interrupted his filibuster attempts, throwing Mr. Trump off kilter.
    • After 20 minutes of Ms. Guthrie’s grilling, Mr. Trump’s advisers appeared concerned. His communications director, Alyssa Farah, approached Ms. Guthrie during the first commercial break, and then joined three other aides gathered with the president onstage.
  • The New York Times: Savannah Guthrie gets answers from Trump by setting a fast pace and following up.
    • Savannah Guthrie spent most of the NBC News town hall tearing into President Trump with a series of quick-paced, conversational questions that managed to put the president on the spot and successfully reveal his evasions in a way that few of his interlocutors have managed.
    • Ms. Guthrie appeared to be successful in pinning down the president simply by following up on the questions she asked, despite his best attempts to evade answering.
    • Ms. Guthrie’s conversational yet piercing interview style appeared to get under the president’s skin.
  • Vox: Savannah Guthrie delivered the Trump interview we’ve been wanting for years
    • The Today show co-anchor tapped to moderate the president’s town hall on NBC Thursday faced an uphill climb going in — a lot of observers were upset the event was happening at all. After all, it was the president who pulled out of the originally scheduled debate in the first place…And she was relentless. No line of inquiry came without multiple follow-ups, no unfounded assertion was made without a pushback.
    • Guthrie came in quick, she came in informed, and she came in ready. She didn’t let Trump just drone on in silence, but she also didn’t come back at him with a list of facts. She just asked him to explain himself, to really answer her question, to just say the thing that is true.
  • Deadline: Savannah Guthrie Saves NBC News From Total Town Hall Debacle As She Grills An Irritable Donald Trump — Review
    • As puzzling as it was that NBC News scheduled its town hall with Donald Trump against ABC News and Joe Biden, credit is due to moderator Savannah Guthrie for turning it into much more of an hourlong interview than a series of softballs from everyday folk.
    • To her credit, Guthrie also didn’t shy away from doing follow ups after the audience got their questions in. That came in handy at moments, as when one woman gushed to Trump that “you’re so handsome when you smile,” and then posed a question about cuts to the Dreamer program.
    • Trump’s patterns of repeating unproven facts and misinformation, however, come so fast and furious that there is only so much that a moderator can do, even as much as Guthrie may have tried to interject. As much as NBC faced complaints for its event, their critics can take some solace for what might have been, a town hall debate between the two candidates where Trump likely would have faced little fact checking from the moderator at all, given the constraints on the format.
  • Variety: Savannah Guthrie Kept Command of NBC’s Controversial Trump Town Hall
    • President Trump wanted to run and ramble. Savannah Guthrie wouldn’t let him.
    • In what may be the performance of a career, the popular “Today” anchor kept a tight rein on the proceedings of a controversial town-hall event with President Donald Trump that put NBC in the cross-hairs of critics and Hollywood A-listers.
    • She kept the president to short answers and, after he responded to various citizens in place to ask him questions, added fact checks and follow-ups. Even close observers of the news industry and the current outrageous political cycle gave her kudos.
    • Guthrie has never been under such an intense microscope, even when NBC’s “Today” was in the midst of crisis as her former co-anchor, Matt Lauer, was removed from the program in the wake of accusations of inappropriate sexual behavior were levied against him in 2017. On Thursday night, she served as the representative of a media company that made a decision many critics believed was not in the interest of the people who watch it or the public its large NBC broadcast network is supposed to serve.
  • CNN – Reliable Sources: What we learned from Trump and Biden's town halls
    • Thursday night was Trump's first time taking tough questions from a TV interviewer since his coronavirus infection -- and from a former litigator no less. It was one of the finest moments of Guthrie's career. During and after the town hall, she was widely praised in journalism circles for prodding Trump with followups and pushing back at his distortions. And Trump's campaign was quick to issue a statement attacking her, which tells you everything you need to know.
    • Oliver Darcy writes: "A good barometer for judging a Trump interview is whether the anchor asks the president the questions and follow ups on the minds of voters sitting at home and watching. This sounds simple, but often fails to happen in interviews with Trump, as he does his best to roll over the person asking him questions. Guthrie, however, excelled and did not let Trump off the hook. When Trump, for instance, declined to take responsibility for promoting a deranged Bin Laden conspiracy theory by arguing that he only retweeted 'an opinion of someone,' Guthrie responded by channeling what most people watching were probably thinking. 'You're the President!' she exclaimed. 'You're not someone's crazy uncle who can retweet whatever.' Those moments, which occurred over and over, made Guthrie's interview worth watching."
  • CNN: [Opinion, Joe Lockhart] Trump wasted a big opportunity
    • After roughly 20 minutes of trying to pin down President Donald Trump on why he models dangerous behavior during a pandemic, NBC's Savannah Guthrie spoke for most Americans in frustration by pointing out he was the President of the United States, not someone's "crazy uncle."
  • POLITICO: Trump gets grilled as Biden coasts: Takeaways from the dueling town halls
    • Trump’s toughest questions came not from the audience but the moderator, Savannah Guthrie, who asked Trump 15 minutes of questions before calling on members of the audience and repeatedly pushed back after he dodged questions.
  • Daily Beast: Savannah Guthrie Knocks a Perspiring Trump Back on His Heels
    • Dealt dreadfully lousy cards… Today show co-host Savannah Guthrie did not fold.
    • Quite the contrary, she managed to burnish her journalistic reputation, if not that of her employer, by repeatedly forcing the president to answer the sort of inconvenient questions he has easily evaded during countless press gaggles, phoned-in interviews, and his first and possibly final official debate against the frontrunning Democratic nominee.
    • One gauge of the effectiveness of Guthrie’s performance was the howls of protests from Trump’s acolytes and sycophants, as reflected in a tweet by Fox News’ resident imp terrible, Greg Gutfield.
    • Another marker was the reaction of international relations professor David Rothkopf, among the hundreds of opinion-makers who condemned NBC on Wednesday morning when the Trump town hall was announced.
    • “Gotta say, I’m warming to Savannah Guthrie’s performance,” he tweeted as the town hall progressed. “Right now, it’s a B or B plus… but light years better than, for example, Chris Wallace in controlling Trump’s bullying and bullshitting.”
    • While former Republican consultant Stuart Stevens, a member of the Lincoln Project, expressed disappointment that Guthrie didn’t press Trump on his misogyny (a gambit that didn’t go especially well for Megyn Kelly back in the day), several media-elite reviews were effusive.
    • “FWIW,” tweeted the Times’ Michael Barbaro, “@SavannahGuthrie has figured out how to repeatedly and frequently interrupt the president in exactly the way required to actually interview him.”
    • The Washington Post’s Philip Rucker praised her for “sharp, tough questioning” and for “smartly following up to pin Trump down when he responds with vague or rambling answers.”
    • The BBC’s Paul Danahar opined that Guthrie “is the toughest moderator/interviewer that the President Trump has faced for some time,” while his colleague Nick Bryant asked: “Can Savannah Guthrie moderate every presidential debate?”
    • Even Rachel Maddow, who was at pains post-town hall to dissociate MSNBC from the entire enterprise, stressing that it was a production, however dubious, of NBC News, called Guthrie’s performance “sharp.”
    • Slate: It Took Savannah Guthrie 19 Minutes to Give Trump His Toughest Grilling in Years
    • Washington Post: Savannah Guthrie grilled Trump like few others have, taking the heat off NBC for its town hall
      • NBC faced sharp criticism this week for scheduling a Thursday night town hall with President Trump, with even network employees chiding their employer for giving him an hour of airtime — “a free hour of television,” he said, sounding pleased, at a rally earlier that day. Even worse, critics said, it was matched up against ABC’s town hall with Democratic candidate Joe Biden, making voters choose.
      • But despite fears that the event would amount to a free promotion for Trump’s campaign, it ended up being one of the toughest grillings he has faced as president, with questions about white supremacy, covid-19 deaths and his taxes.
      • While the event was nominally a town hall, featuring questions from Florida voters, it included a lot of direct pressing by the moderator, “Today” co-host Savannah Guthrie, who repeatedly challenged the president’s evasions.

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