Everybody Hates Matt Lauer

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News Media

I need to preface this by saying that I did not watch last night’s Commander in Chief forum. I’m only going by the reviews. But it appears moderator Matt Lauer bombed, big time. And it’s not just bloggers and liberal websites saying so.

James Poniewozik, The New York Times:

The NBC presidential forum on Wednesday night in Manhattan brought together the candidates Hillary Clinton and Donald J. Trump to try to determine who has the strength, preparation and presence of mind to lead during a time of crisis.

It sure wasn’t Matt Lauer.

In an event aboard the decommissioned aircraft carrier Intrepid, the “Today” host was lost at sea. Seemingly unprepared on military and foreign policy specifics, he performed like a soldier sent on a mission without ammunition, beginning with a disorganized offensive, ending in a humiliating retreat.

The gist of everyone’s criticism of his Hillary Clinton interview is that he spent too much time on the damn emails — no revelations came from this — and then stopped her from providing substantive answers to other questions.

Callum Borchers, The Washington Post:

Roughly a third of his questioning dealt with the emails — a matter certainly connected to national security, but also a staple issue of this year’s campaign-trail reporting. It suggested, as the rest of the forum confirmed, that Mr. Lauer was steadiest handling issues familiar to anyone with a passing knowledge of the morning politics headlines.

That emphasis left relatively little time for the forum’s foreign-policy and military subjects. Mr. Lauer and the audience asked about complex topics — the Middle East, terrorism, veterans’ affairs — and Mr. Lauer pressed for simple answers. “As briefly as you can,” he injected when an audience member asked how Mrs. Clinton would decide whether to deploy troops against the Islamic State.

There’s a difference between an interviewer who has questions and one who has knowledge, and Mr. Lauer illustrated it. He seemed to be plowing through a checklist, not listening in the moment in a way that led to productive follow-ups. Short on time, he repeatedly interrupted Mrs. Clinton in a way he didn’t with Mr. Trump. (“Let me finish,” she protested at one point.)

Trump, on the other hand, got softballs:

When a prominent figure representing the United States on an international stage sat down with Matt Lauer recently, the NBC host asked tough questions probing his false statements.

The prominent figure was Olympic swimmer Ryan Lochte. On Wednesday night, a far different Lauer sat down with Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump.  …

… That interview was the apotheosis of this presidential campaign’s forced marriage of entertainment and news. The host of NBC’s morning show interviewed the former star of its reality show “The Apprentice,” and the whole thing played out as farce.

Like Mrs. Clinton, Mr. Trump has had a few controversies related to the military. You might recall him feuding with a Gold Star family, or mocking Senator John McCain for being captured in Vietnam, or likening his prep-school attendance to military experience.

Mr. Lauer evidently didn’t recall any of that. He kicked off by asking Mr. Trump what in his life had prepared him to be president, the kind of whiffle ball job-interview question you ask the boss’s nephew you know you have to hire anyway.

Frank Rich, New York magazine:

Much ridicule, all deserved, has been aimed at Lauer’s laughably empty reservoir of facts, particularly when questioning the fact-free Trump. (“Questioning” may be an overstatement in this context; Lauer didn’t question Trump so much as feed him anodyne cues to spew any hooey he wanted.) The most widely panned example of the moderator’s failure is particularly galling: Clinton herself said in the forum’s opening round that Trump was initially in favor of the Iraq War, having said so on Howard Stern’s radio show in 2002. But Lauer didn’t even listen to her. When Trump said just minutes later that he had been against the war from the start — and cited a 2004 Esquire article as proof — Lauer not only failed to challenge the conflict between what he said and the truth cited by Clinton but seemed oblivious to the fact that the Iraq War began in 2003. And let’s not forget that interlude when Trump was claiming that Vladimir Putin is a superior leader to Barack Obama — an outrageous argument that Lauer never challenged. To prove his point, Trump cited “polls” that give Putin an 82 percent approval rating. What polls? Lauer didn’t ask. I dare say Trump could have cited Chinese polls from the 1960s that gave Mao a 100 percent approval rating, and this moderator would have just nodded and moved on to the next topic on his crib sheet.

Of course, these comments were genteel and measured compared to some on the leftie blogs. But you get the picture.

A few were more forgiving:

Charles Pierce, Esquire:

If you assume, as I do, that simply telling El Caudillo del Mar-A-Lago that he is a lying sack of hair who knows less about most major issues than a rhino knows about differential calculus would be frowned upon at the upper echelons of NBC, then there wasn’t much for poor Lauer to do. The man denies he said what he clearly said. He denies he did what he clearly did. He claims to know more about any subject about which he clearly knows nothing. He is the hero of his own epic in which he’s already won because…winning! How do bring someone to a reckoning when he’s already triumphant in his own mind?

Journalism’s great enemy is not untruth. It’s futility.

Donald Trump was appalling last night. He was exposed, again, as someone from whom you wouldn’t buy an apple, let alone a foreign policy. He didn’t know that we already have military courts. He didn’t know that you can’t just go “get the oil.” (Someone should ask the Kurds what they think about this.) He lied, again, about his previous positions regarding the military operations in Iraq and Libya. He defended an old tweet of his about how, if we’re going to have women and men in the military, then the occasional sexual assault is part of the price we should be expected to pay. He pronounced himself impressed by Vladimir Putin’s poll numbers in Russia.

Think about that for a moment.

Hm. Well, if we’re saying here that the media upper echelons will not allow grilling of Donald Trump out of some misguided sense of propriety, then that’s one thing. But then, why even bother? Why have news media at all? Let’s just cut the crap and let the candidates run their own puff pieces and advertising.

Update: See also William Saletan, “NBC’s Commander in Chief Forum Was an Authoritarian Farce.”

More: Jonathan Chait, “Matt Lauer’s Pathetic Interview of Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump Is the Scariest Thing I’ve Seen in This Campaign

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17 Comments

17 Comments

  1. c u n d gulag  •  Sep 8, 2016 @5:28 pm

    I didn’t watch it either.

    If it weren’t for taking care of my 84 1/2 year-old mother, I’d hope that I’d suffer a fatal heart-attack of aneurysm before election day, because I am sick to death of t-RUMP, the MSM, and his bigoted, stupid, ignorant, and moronic followers!

    All I can say, is that if t-RUMP wins, then this country fully will deserve the shit-storm that will follow.
    And that pre-supposes that we and the world – survive the first few days of this thin-skinned “MORANS!!!” Presidency.

  2. Bill Bush  •  Sep 8, 2016 @5:57 pm

    Lauer must have been way way out of his league. I watched a short excerpt today, as I had spared myself the full torture session. Trump just answered what he wished had been asked. Of course, there is something to be said for letting him ramble on. His supporters will never believe anything HRC says, but he certainly is providing campaign ad fodder. Unfortunately, here in north central NC, Trump signs are all I have seen, no HRC at all.

  3. Ed  •  Sep 8, 2016 @8:23 pm

    Well, Chuck Todd hosts Meet The Press. The first time he was host, he “interviewed” Pres. Obama, who mentioned Syria four times. About three seconds after the fourth utterance of that country’s name, Todd smirked and said “You have not mentioned Syria once.” Obama was most patient with him, but could have come back with something which would have embarrassed the man who was trying to embarrass him. It was obvious that Todd was rehearsing a “gotcha” line in his head when the President of the United States was speaking to him.

    Todd had generally favorable reviews of his performance that day, and kept his job. That was the last time I tuned in to MTP. Now I can go and do other things during that hour rather than waste it on a fool like Todd.

    I think that the media corporations want a Trump presidency. As disaster after disaster unfolds under that man, people will tune in to their broadcasts and special programs, boosting their ratings and profits. Hillary will be b-o-r-I-n-g but Trump will be anything but.

    Perhaps this time next year we could be hearing this:

    France today recalled its ambassador to the United States after President Trump called its president a “frog face and a fool.” Will NATO dissolve over this latest crisis between the United States and Europe? Tune in tonight at 9 for our special program “America and the World on the Brink” and find out.

  4. grannyeagle  •  Sep 8, 2016 @8:47 pm

    I agree taking the oil is a ridiculous idea. However, unless I am getting senile, I do remember the Bush/Cheney or Cheney/Bush admin., when promoting the Iraqi war, claimed that the oil would pay for it.

  5. Swami  •  Sep 9, 2016 @2:43 am

    Hah, my seemingly juvenile comments about Trump being a big bag of shit are beginning to appear as a profound analytical assessment. Who would have guessed? It’s just intuitive, believe me.

  6. goatherd  •  Sep 9, 2016 @9:54 am

    This election does seem to be the classic train wreck in slow motion. I’m a ways south and west of Bill, but it’s the same story. Trump is winning the road sign and bumper sticker war, Richard Burr is running adds declaring that we should “thank him for voting to repeal ‘Obamacare.'” It hard to say what is more disturbing, the spectacle of Trump displaying Trump, or the display of what some many of us have become. The lawsuits against Trump University, the unpaid contractors from Trump projects or the possible bribe to a Florida AG, each of those things would set off an alarm, and collectively, they should be devastating. Instead we hear a “Meh?” with the trickle of water off a duck’s back.

    At the least there should be some very interesting psychological studies of master con men and their victims.

  7. Tom_b  •  Sep 9, 2016 @11:47 am

    Goatherd: that’s the thing; Trump is a scandal a day– a REAL scandal. Trump U, Atlantic City, Putin, Manafort– and Lauer wants to talk about Clinton’s E-mail? Bernie was right 6 months ago NOBODY cares about the email. Not even the FBI, apparently. It’s double-standard to the 10th power.

  8. csm  •  Sep 9, 2016 @12:29 pm

    I couldn’t bring myself to watch the entire interview, as I suspected it would turn out the way it did. But Lauer actually outdid himself in the sanctimonious, disrespectful, dripping with disdain style which many in the media seem to think is the standard operating procedure for a Clinton interview, facts be damned.

    The corporate media wants the horse race, but they would love a Trump presidency, because then not a day will pass without some outrage or stupidity for them to pimp ratings; its all they care about. If we all don’t get blown to smithereens before its over, which would be likely. But who cares?

    Lauer jumped the shark. He was so superficial, shallow, unprepared and downright cowardly he gave the game away. Hence the condemnation from many of the usual media suspects who are guilty of, but far better at, putting on a veneer of competency over this approach to what they call political journalism.

  9. Swami  •  Sep 9, 2016 @2:30 pm

    It hard to say what is more disturbing, the spectacle of Trump displaying Trump, or the display of what some many of us have become.

    Not for me it isn’t. There’ll alway be personalities that are as abhorrent as Trump’s. What is disturbing to me is the fact that Trump has risen to the level of acceptance on the national stage that he has. It shows me that the fault for that acceptance lies with the American public. Whether it be ignorance, fear, anger, allegiance to party, political self preservation, misogyny or a thousand other reasons for supporting Trump it doesn’t change the fact that he is morally, intellectually and emotionally unfit for the office of the presidency of the United States.
    I wish I had the time and energy coupled with the skill and knowledge to provide an exact psychological profile of Trump that would enumerate all of his character defects. However, being from the same geographical location as Trump at the same time and age while engaging in the same profession of contracting, I can offer a concise yet thoroughly comprehensive description of who Donald J Trump is..Simply put..He’s a big bag of shit.
    And in the way of loving advice to anybody who is considering voting for Trump I’ll offer this advice..Flee from him, if he manages to take you in with his lies and deceptions, you’re going to get fuckin’ burned. Believe me!

  10. Swami  •  Sep 9, 2016 @3:38 pm

    Here’s a little something for you potential Trump voters to consider. Compare the intellect and demeanor of President Obama to that of the overstuffed red faced slob with the 1962 Duke of Earl hair style, and see if you might be settling for less than America has to offer in the way of real leadership.
    http://abcnews.go.com/Politics/president-obama-bob-woodruff-born-year-share-coming/story?id=41954701

  11. erinyes  •  Sep 9, 2016 @7:03 pm

    That 80’s classic “Devil Inside” by INXS comes to mind. Makes me wonder how the other half dies, other half dies. Every single one of us, the devil inside.

  12. goatherd  •  Sep 10, 2016 @9:12 am

    “It’s hard to say which is more disturbing …”

    I admit that was not a well chosen phrase. In reviewing it, I have to come to grips with what I have become habituated to over the decades. I am accustomed to a certain level of absurdity, anger and intransigence in people. The time has long passed when people could be swayed by reason; most have world views and opinions that are untempered by reality. That’s become the norm.

    The science of public relations, AKA propaganda, has reached a frightening level of efficacy. You can draw a fairly straight line through the Powell Memorandum, the abandonment of the Fairness Doctrine, the courting of the “religious right” and the Citizens United decision and see a part of what brought us here. That same detachment leads to people acting and reacting without regard to consequences. I remember a friend who turned towards the Tea Party when it sprang from the loins of the “Trickster.” He thought it would be good to “shake things up a bit.” But, what will the new state of equilibrium be like? What will happen during the process of finding it?

    The Trumpsters have bumped up the volume a notch or two, but, they merely reveal what we all knew, or sensed was there for quite some time. Trump is absolutely a “real scandal a day,” while the media seem more concerned with appearance and shadow when it comes to HRC. (Krugman had a piece on this the other day.) But, we’ve come to a point where people feel perfectly justified in choosing the objects of their outrage. They’re “consumers” after all. The problem is, the “choice” has already been made for them.

    So, I was in error. Trump is a hideous ass, but, the fact that he is where he is and that so many support him, is far deeper and more disturbing.

  13. Swami  •  Sep 10, 2016 @4:09 pm

    Clinton expresses regret for saying ‘half’ of Trump supporters are ‘deplorables’

    Of course, she should have regret for understating the true amount of deplorables who support Trump. Three quarters to seven eighths would be a more accurate estimation.

  14. Mike G  •  Sep 10, 2016 @7:22 pm

    The whole event was a corporate-media shitshow, from the hosting by a celebrity-fluffing morning-TV sockpuppet (what, Kelly Ripa wasn’t available?) to the “our audience is too dumb to understand without visual props” location on an aircraft carrier museum with planes in the background.
    Presidential debates are such overscripted and lame events that nothing notable is ever said except perhaps for gaffes which the corporate media then flog as So Meaningful because they’re starving for anything to say.

  15. bernie  •  Sep 11, 2016 @6:40 am

    I think we have it now. A poor piece of television, poorly conceived, poorly executed, with a poor moderator. In a single word deplorable. The next thing you know some intellectual will call it a vast wasteland. I wasted my time watching it, but I have truly enjoyed the critique of it.

  16. goatherd  •  Sep 11, 2016 @9:08 am

    “She should have regret for understating the true amount of deplorables”

    I have no idea how her statement is currently playing out. But, it does seem that the right claims the franchise on politically incorrect/straight talkin’/call ’em as I see ’em.

    But, as we used to say as kids, “they can dish it out, but they can’t take it.” They can turnabout from fire breathing hate speech to clutching their pearls in a nanosecond.

    I heard a disturbing article on NPR the other day. The disturbing part was the extent to which political categories and candidates were discussed as “brands.” Unfortunately, that seems like a very insightful way to discuss them. The political system and the economic systems are entwined, but, the language indicates which has the upper hand.

  17. c u n d gulag  •  Sep 11, 2016 @9:23 am

    Not every conservative/Republican is a racist, a misogynist,a xenophobe, a homophobe, and/or a religiously-intolerant “deplorable” “Christian” “MORAN!!!”

    But every racist, misogynist, xenophobe, homophobe, and/or religiously-intolerant “deplorable” “Christian” “MORAN!!!!!”, is a conservative/Republican.

    Make of that what you will…



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