Five facts about Kristen Welker, first Black woman to moderate a presidential debate since 1992

Mildred Europa Taylor October 23, 2020
TODAY -- Pictured: Kristen Welker and Craig Melvin on Thursday, August 29, 2019 -- (Photo by: Nathan Congleton/NBC/NBCU Photo Bank)

U.S. President Donald Trump and Joe Biden on Thursday night clashed over the pandemic, racism and health care in the final presidential debate but many analysts believe the moderator and NBC White House correspondent Kristen Welker was the winner of the debate.

Welker, 44, is the first Black woman to moderate a general election presidential debate since Carole Simpson of ABC in 1992. She has been receiving all the praise for calmly and expertly moderating a less chaotic debate which was held live at Belmont University in Nashville, Tennessee.

The first presidential debate in September in Cleveland was messy and almost a disaster, with Trump’s frequent interruptions and the moderator Chris Wallace not being firm in making Trump respect the rules. This time around, microphones were muted during candidates’ opening answers to questions, and Welker unremittingly controlled the conversation while seeking to get the facts by asking pertinent questions.

Her detailed questions to both candidates covered topics from institutional racism to climate change, the pandemic, national security, American families, border policies and leadership, all the while ensuring that each candidate had the appropriate time to respond and keeping the peace between the two.

The winner of Thursday night’s debate was “obviously” Welker, tweeted New York Times opinion writer Jamelle Bouie. Even Trump who had earlier criticized Welker praised her moderation Thursday night, and so did Wallace, who admitted that he was “jealous” of the final presidential debate.

So who is Welker? Here are things to know about the television journalist?

She has worked in journalism for years

Welker, who studied American history at Harvard and interned for the Today show while in college, worked for local TV stations in Providence, Rhode Island; Redding, California; and then Philadelphia, her hometown before joining NBC in 2010 full time. Later that year, she was nominated for a national Emmy Award for NBC News’ midterm election coverage. In 2011, she became a White House reporter and reported on the 2016 presidential election. In January 2020, Welker was named “Weekend Today” co-anchor alongside Peter Alexander.

This is not the first time Welker is moderating a debate

In November 2019, Welker co-moderated the fifth Democratic presidential primary debate in Atlanta with MSNBC hosts Andrea Mitchell and Rachel Maddow and Ashley Parker, the White House reporter for The Washington Post. Welker’s questions centered on race, housing and healthcare, and the four were commended for their performance.

What motivated Welker to become a journalist

Welker grew up as a biracial child. Her mother is Black, and she worked as a real estate agent while her father, who worked as an engineer, is White. Welker told Glamour last year that the idea of helping people of different races and backgrounds better communicate inspired her to become a journalist. While in sixth grade, Welker knew she wanted to be a journalist, she once said in an interview, and that even pushed her to intern for the Today Show in the 1990s.

Trump praised her at a press conference

Trump did raise issues with Welker ahead of the debate but in January, he publicly congratulated her at a press conference when she was named co-anchor for “Weekend Today.” “They made a very wise decision,” the president said. Jason Miller, Trump’s senior adviser also commended Welker during an interview: “I think she’s a journalist who is very fair in her approach.”

“Thank you so much for this welcome. To have come here as an intern, for the TODAY show to shoot that real — I looked so serious!,” Kristen said when she joined the show as co-host.

Her mom is her biggest supporter

Welker, in a Mother’s Day piece recently, described her mom, Juliet Welker, as “my biggest supporter, my best friend, and my greatest inspiration.”
Juliet was the first Black president of the women’s student association at Penn State University, Welker said, adding that her mom has stood by her side every step of the way, right from the moment she disclosed that she wanted to be a journalist. “…I would not be the person or journalist that I am today if it were not for my mom,” Welker wrote in the piece.

Last Edited by:Mildred Europa Taylor Updated: October 23, 2020


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