Presidential debate moderator Kristen Welker demonstrated the importance of racial diversity in politics and journalism


After President Trump declined to participate in a second virtual presidential debate scheduled for earlier this month, all eyes in the political world naturally turned to Thursday night. The final showdown between President Trump and Democratic nominee Joe Biden, last night’s debate was a consequential night for both opponents, and their last formal chance to sway undecided voters ahead of the fast approaching election.

NBC White House correspondent Kristen Welker, who at 44 was the youngest by nearly a generation of four reporters chosen by the Commission on Presidential Debates to oversee this season’s run of candidate showdowns election, was asked to moderate the crucial debate.

Under rules established by the commission, Welker was tasked with not only moderating the debate, but also selecting the topics the candidates would debate. Welker, who chose six of them, asked the two candidates about the fight against the COVID-19 pandemic, American families, race in America, climate change, national security and leadership.

Welker, the first black woman to moderate a presidential debate since 1992, was warmly applauded for her performance on Thursday night – in which Welker proved adept at pacing, keeping candidates off topic and maybe more. importantly, to check the facts in real time.

“I think if there was a clear winner in this debate tonight, it was, actually, Kristen Welker,” MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow said. “Kudos to Kristen and the way it was structured, the tremendous amount of work that went into it, and the command she asserted.”

“She actually got them to debate with each other. You have heard an incredible contrast in politics.

Welker was able to ask the candidates tough questions about important topics that had yet to be addressed, such as a pointed question she directed to President Trump about the economic hardships Americans have faced due to the coronavirus pandemic. coronavirus. “As of tonight, more than 12 million people are out of work,” she said. “Eight million more Americans have been pushed into poverty and more families are going hungry every day. The hardest hit are women and people of color. They see Washington tussling over a relief bill Mr. President, why have you not been able to get them the help they need?”

Trump blamed House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, saying she “don’t want to endorse it,” while also saying “I do.” Welker insisted, “But you are the president.”

His rapid but well-deserved rise

Originally from Philadelphia, Welker graduated from Harvard University in 1998. She then worked for her circuit of local television networks for more than a decade before being hired by Chris Blackman in 2005 as a generalist journalist and weekend news anchor at the NBC branch in Philadelphia. Then, in January of this year, Welker added another notch to her belt as co-anchor of the weekend edition of “Today.”

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Welker recently told Elle magazine that she saw the importance of having a diverse set of viewpoints in the press from a young age, recalling the times when she attended press conferences where reporters asked her mother, who is black, about her marriage to her father, who is white.

“I just thought, ‘Wow, it’s really important who’s asking the questions,'” she told Elle. Adding that she now knows how crucial it is for newsrooms to reflect their audience.

In his preparation for Thursday’s debate, Welker called on voters across the country to ask what they wanted answers to — shop questions and drills to politely but firmly coax candidates into a smooth transition from one question to another. During her preparation, she also called on the moderator of the first debate, Chris Wallace of Fox News, for his advice.

“I’m jealous,” Chris Wallace said after Thursday’s debate. “I wish I could moderate this debate and get a real exchange of views instead of hundreds of interruptions.”

The importance of representation

Welker’s series of questions on race and policing in this country only underscored the importance of representation in journalism, as it posed the only question in the entire debate cycle on the separation of children to the border – an important issue that has often been overshadowed by questioning of coronavirus politics. Welker asked President Trump how the parents of more than 500 migrant children taken from their families will be found, to which, after repeated follow-ups, the president finally said he was “working very hard” to find them.

During the climate change debate segment, Welker was the only one to point out that people of color are far more likely to live near oil refineries and chemical plants. On Thursday evening, at a now much-discussed moment, she asked former Vice President Joe Biden about “the conversation” all BIPOC parents have with their children about how to behave to avoid an unnecessary confrontation with police officers. .

Perhaps most notably, President Trump was asked by Welker about the racial conflicts occurring in the country.

“Mr. President, you described the Black Lives Matter movement as a symbol of hate. You shared a video of a man chanting ‘white power’ to millions of your followers. You said that black professional athletes exercising their First Amendment rights should be thrown back. What do you say to Americans who say that this kind of language, from a president, contributes to a climate of hatred and racial strife?”

President Trump replied, “You have to understand, the first time I heard about Black Lives Matter, they were chanting, ‘Pigs in a blanket,’ talking about the police.” It is unclear which protest he is referring to where this chant was heard, as it is not a phrase associated with Black Lives Matter.

“That was my first look at Black Lives Matter. I thought it was a terrible thing,” he continued, saying he was “the least racist person in this room.”

Welker, who insisted on asking the president what he had to say to Americans concerned about this rhetoric, received a response from the president in which he compared his contributions to the black American community to those of former president Abraham Lincoln. – a comparison he made in the past.

President Trump’s response drew a sarcastic response from Biden, who sarcastically said, “‘Abraham Lincoln’ here is one of the most racist presidents we’ve had in modern history,” Biden said. about President Trump. “He pours fuel on every racist Fire. Every one of them.

Regardless of the responses Welker received during his debate moderation on Thursday night, his well-received performance and incisive questions shed light on the importance of diverse representation in politics.

In fact, when she first got the call to moderate, Welker told Elle that her question to Joe Biden about “the conversation” was the first question she wrote. “I wanted people to feel like it was accessible to them, that it wasn’t a discussion that people who work in Washington were having. I thought that was an important way to capture that moment that a lot of people of color see as a moment of crisis, and to get to the heart of that.







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