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CNBC invited Trump on its air. The network didn’t even try to stop his lies

Sign up for the daily digest chronicling the evolving media landscape here. New York CNN  —  Suffice to say, this was no perfect call. CNBC on Monday made the curious decision to welcome Donald Trump onto its airwaves for an extended live telephone chat, in which the business news network allowed the twice-impeached, four-time indicted, insurrection-inciting former president a safe harbor to make a number of outrageous and false comments without scrutiny. “I believe on the ‘Squawk’ news line, we are joined by former President Donald J. Trump, DJT 45. It is good to welcome you. It’s been a while, Mr. President,” Joe Kernen, co-host of “Squawk Box,” greeted Trump on the air. Almost immediately after commencing the interview, Trump launched into one of his trademark, fact-free rants. Kernen asked the Republican candidate to outline his “vision for the country” following President Joe Biden’s State of the Union address, to which Trump unleashed a stream of deceit-laced drivel. Most notably, he alleged Biden has weaponized the government and that the U.S. legal system under the “very angry and confused man” is now comparable to that of “third world countries.” Kernan let it all fly. Rather than fact-checking Trump, or at least providing context about the serious allegations he leveled to viewers, the CNBC host brushed the insidious comments aside and attempted to move the interview along. Kernen, trying to conduct a serious interview with a very unserious man, proceeded to asked Trump about his view toward entitlements. Republican presidential candidate former President Donald Trump speaks at a campaign rally Saturday, March 9, 2024, in Rome, Georgia. Mike Stewart/AP Related article Trump suggests he’s open to cuts to Medicare and Social Security after attacking primary rivals over the issue But Trump didn’t answer. Instead, he said he disagreed with the premise of the question (that “something has to be done” to rein in entitlement programs) and pivoted to other topics, infusing his rambling response with more lies. The former president, for example, claimed that when he was in office, the country was producing oil at a “much higher level oil” than now. “We were drill baby drill,” Trump boasted. But, as those paying attention to the issue know well, Trump’s claim was false. U.S. gas and crude oil production has soared to a record under Biden, surpassing Trump’s term in office. In fact, coincidentally, the U.S. Energy Information Administration put out a press release on Monday noting that in 2023, the U.S. broke all previous records for oil production. Unfortunately, Kernen failed to challenge Trump on the matter. Instead, throughout the interview, the “Squawk” host effectively surrendered the channel’s air to Trump, allowing the dishonest GOP candidate to abuse the platform and mislead its audience of influential viewers — all by phone. To be fair to the “Squawk” crew, it was not only Kernen who had the opportunity to ask Trump questions during the Trump chat. Co-host Andrew Ross Sorkin attempted at times to press Trump on various issues, such as his reversal on whether the U.S. should ban TikTok. While Kernen showed no interest in holding Trump accountable, Sorkin at least tried to compel Trump to include some substance in his responses, though it was largely to no avail. Watching the CNBC interview felt like being transported in time to 2015, back when news outlets allowed Trump to phone in to news shows and deliver a drive-by of lies to their audiences. Even after the interview aired, CNBC waited hours to do the bare minimum and publish digital stories fact-checking some of Trump’s claims. Instead, the outlet quickly spliced Trump’s comments into a handful of clips and posted them online, amplifying his comments further. It is hard to see how any responsible news executive would defend CNBC’s actions as beneficial, nevermind smart. Asked why the network allowed Trump to repeatedly lie on its air without scrutiny, a CNBC spokesperson told me: “We asked Former President Trump questions that are important to our audience such as social security and entitlement spending, and challenged him throughout the discussion on business issues like tariffs and their impact on the nation’s relationship with China. Additionally, the CNBC digital team has followed up with reporting throughout the day pointing out areas of inaccuracies and including comments from others questioning his statements.” Regardless of how debatable that characterization is, it is remarkable that after nearly a decade of covering Trump as a politician, prominent news outlets, having witnessed the democracy-threatening effects of Trump’s lies, have reverted to lowering their guardrails, allowing him to once again poison the public discourse with false claims. It’s even more striking given the stakes. Left: Meta's CEO Mark Zuckerberg; right: Republican presidential candidate and former President Donald Trump. Evelyn Hockstein/Reuters/Evan Vucci/AP Related article Trump calls Facebook the enemy of the people. Meta’s stock sinks Trump has publicly confessed he would like to rule as a strongman and exact revenge on his political opponents, should he win in November. He has even explicitly threatened NBCU News Group parent Comcast over the media giant’s political coverage, calling its chairman Brian Roberts in November a “slime ball” and declaring “our so-called ‘government’ should come down hard on them.” (Trump was notably never asked about these overt threats during his Monday interview on CNBC.) Instead of recognizing the threat Trump poses and assuming a more cautious stance, NBC News Group appears to be moving in the opposite direction. MSNBC has recently started taking Trump’s public remarks live (to the vocal objection of star host Rachel Maddow) and CNBC is now welcoming Trump to its air for friendly chats. At the end of Monday’s “Squawk” interview, Trump claimed his legal problems “aren’t legal issues” but “Biden issues;” falsely claimed Biden installed Fani Willis as the Fulton County district attorney; alleged without evidence Biden has “weaponized government” to target him; raged against E. Jean Carroll and again called her accusation of sexual assault “false,” prompting her attorney to suggest maybe she will sue him again; and ominously warned about the “fragile” state of the country and how “people are rejecting” the government for supposedly targeting him. Kernen, a purported newsman, apparently didn’t find any of those issues worth confronting Trump on. Instead, he thanked Trump for appearing on the program and immediately moved to invite him on again for more interviews. “We appreciate all the time you’ve given us this morning, Mr. President,” Kernen said. “I look forward to another conversation in the not-too-distant future.”