New York (CNN Business)It was enraging to watch Axios reporter Jonathan Swan’s interview with President Trump — and not only because the President displayed naiveté when repeatedly confronted with the facts.
It was also enraging because for years well-compensated professional television news anchors have failed to execute interviews half as effective as Swan’s.
Bill Hemmer. Bret Baier. David Muir. Chuck Todd.
Each of those anchors have had their opportunities to sit down with the President. But none of them produced an interview as revealing as the one that aired Monday on “Axios on HBO.”
In March, Hemmer allowed Trump to cite a conspiratorial news outlet to attack New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s handling of the pandemic with no pushback. In May, Baier allowed Trump to declare the federal government’s response to the pandemic has been a great success story with no pushback. Later that month, Muir let Trump claim that people should “have no problem” with access to testing — again with no pushback. And Todd was criticized in 2019 for not effectively fact-checking Trump as he peddled misinformation.
Instead, it took Swan — a print journalist — to meaningfully question the President and not let misinformation and nonsensical statements slide into the interview unchecked. The results were astonishing to watch.
Whereas previous anchors have often accepted Trump’s blathering, Swan did not.
For instance, Swan pressed Trump when he claimed that “some people” have said there can be too much testing for the coronavirus. And when Trump told him to “read the manuals” and “read the books,” Swan immediately questioned him on what manuals and books he was referring to.
When Trump called the reports of Russian bounties on American troops “fake news,” Swan asked him, “Who said it was fake news?” Instead of answering the question, Trump rambled on about nuclear proliferation, China and climate change, prompting Swan to bring the conversation back to the intelligence reports that said Russia offered the Taliban money to kill US troops, peppering the President with questions about whether he reads them.
When Trump claimed that he “did more for the Black community than anybody with the possible exception of Abraham Lincoln, whether you like it or not,” Swan reminded him that Lyndon B. Johnson passed the Civil Right Act.
That entire interview was brimming with examples like those.
Swan came a long way from his first sit-down with Trump back in 2018 when the journalist drew criticism for failing to push back on the President’s claim that the US is the only country that offers birthright citizenship. Swan later wrote in a Slack message obtained by The New York Times that he “wish[ed] he could redo the moment.”
This time, Swan came prepared.
Swan was ready to have an adult conversation with the President on the coronavirus, Afghanistan and other topics. What was clear from the interview was that Trump was not.
Swan’s masterful command of the facts, coupled with his wit, allowed him to immediately — and confidently — drill Trump on even his most basic assertions.
Hopefully the television news establishment watches and takes some notes from Swan’s playbook.