‘Today’ scores with interview of MAGA hat teen — regardless of how you feel about him

January 23, 2019

Before it even aired, there was controversy. After it aired, there was anger.

“Today’’ show co-host Savannah Guthrie was criticized from all sides Wednesday following her interview with Nicholas Sandmann, the Covington Catholic High School student wearing a Make America Great Again hat standing face-to-face with a Native American elder last weekend in Washington, D.C.

You can watch the interview here.

Social media was quick to blast Guthrie. Some thought it was a softball interview. Others thoughts she was unfair to the 16-year-old.

When you’re getting criticized from both sides, there’s a decent chance you did a good job.

Controversy about the interview started before the segment even aired. When “Today’’ announced and started promoting the interview Tuesday night, NBC was attacked for what critics called “giving a platform’’ to someone they perceived to be, at best, a misguided kid to, at worst, a racist.

One tweet compared it to interviewing Hitler. Others pleaded with Today show to not air it, and many on Twitter started tweeting with a #BoycottTodayShow hashtag. It should be noted that the Native American in the standoff, Nathan Phillips, has already been interviewed three times by NBC News and is expected to appear again on Thursday’s “Today” show.

As far as the actual interview with Sandmann on Wednesday, some thought that Guthrie asking if the student felt the need to apologize insinuated that he should apologize. Her exact question was: “Do you feel from this experience that you owe anybody an apology? Do you see your own fault in any way?’’

On the other hand, Guthrie was knocked for asking about the toll this event has taken on Sandmann and his family, leading some to believe she was making Sandmann out to be a victim.

A few thoughts on the interview.

First, and there is no question about this, “Today’’ absolutely did the right thing pursuing and doing an interview with Sandmann. This is one of the biggest news stories in the country. “Today’’ is, in part, a news program. It would have been derelict to not pursue an interview with Sandmann.

While everyone has an opinion on Sandmann and his motives that day, we don’t know enough about him to suggest that NBC gave a platform to a known racist spewing hateful ideas. This isn’t like interviewing someone like Alex Jones, who is known for outlandish and hurtful conspiracy theories. Viewers don’t have to like Sandmann, but his thoughts on what happened over the weekend are newsworthy.

As far as Guthrie’s interview, she was solid. The segment was just over nine minutes. There may have been some parts edited out, but knowing you only have nine minutes, it’s difficult to get into Sandmann’s life story and deeper thoughts. The point of this interview was the immediacy of it.

Knowing that, Guthrie asked the questions that most needed to be asked:;

  • What happened?
  • How do you feel about it?
  • Do you feel bad?
  • What has happened since then?

Guthrie also deserves credit for interviewing a subject who wasn’t easy to interview. He’s 16. He likely isn’t used to being interviewed on national television, thus he likely was nervous. He also appeared somewhat stiff and prepped, and so his answers were often short and unemotional. Such choppy answers do not make for good interviews.

Nevertheless, Guthrie did her best and did well. It was good get for NBC and good work by “Today” — even if so many didn’t like it.