Friday marked the final presidential debate between Donald Trump and Joe Biden before the United States election, and it was a remarkably different event to the first debate which was described at the time as “90 minutes of personal barbs, insults, shouting and attacks”.
Microphones were muted during candidates’ opening answers to questions this time around, which resulted in less interruptions, and a smoother flow of discussion. It was moderated by Kristen Welker, an NBC News White House correspondent, and the first black woman to moderate a presidential debate since Carole Simpson in 1992.
Despite Trump forcefully pointing his finger at Welker at different points throughout the debate, whenever he wanted to cut in, Welker managed to keep interruptions from Trump at bay for the entire 90 minutes.
Where necessary, Welker included fact checks to many points that were not based in truth, and steadily controlled the conversation in the direction she wanted.
She asked detailed, fair questions to both candidates, that covered everything from a COVID-19 vaccine, to climate change, institutional racism, border policies – specifically the families, and children who have been separated from their parents at the borders – and why women and people of colour are suffering the most in the economic fallout from COVID-19.
Good on @kwelkernbc, who pressed Trump hard, asking him whether he has a plan to reunite the children we separated from their families with their parents. She was looking for a public promise, working for those kids. More journalism like this.— Mara Gay (@MaraGay) October 23, 2020
In contrast to the previous debate, Welker allowed appropriate time for each candidate to respond to one another, without letting it descend into chaos.
After the first debate moderator Chris Wallace was visibly overwhelmed by Trump’s constant interruptions and bulldozing, the performance from Welker proved more effective in curating a more constructive debate.
One of the hardest jobs of a debate moderator is to interrupt politely, firmly, definitively. @kwelkernbc is giving a masterclass in how to command control — but not the spotlight — an incredibly important and difficult tightrope in broadcast journalism. Brava. #Debates2020— Michelle Jaconi 💥 (@jaconi) October 23, 2020
“But you’re the president.”— Emma Gray (@emmaladyrose) October 23, 2020
Kristen Welker showed up tonight.
Hours before the debate, Trump tweeted insults at Kristen Walker, labelling her biased and rude, and last week, he said “she’s always been terrible & unfair”.
She’s always been terrible & unfair, just like most of the Fake News reporters, but I’ll still play the game. The people know! How’s Steve Scully doing? https://t.co/uS3EWzfFPy— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) October 17, 2020