NBC News Chief Defends Matt Lauer Performance at Candidate Forum

Matt Lauer MSNBC Commander-In-Chief Forum

Everyone from “Daily Show” host Trevor Noah to New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristoff has offered unkind words for the way NBC NewsMatt Lauer moderated a candidate forum this week that involved both Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump. But the veteran “Today” anchor has at least one person in his corner: His boss.

In a staff memo made widely available Friday afternoon, Andrew Lack, chairman of both NBC News and MSNBC, said Lauer did a “tremendous job” in interviewing both Clinton and Trump under time constraints at a televised event organized by a non-profit devoted to veterans’ interests and the NBCUniversal unit.

“Against all odds we were able to bring the two presidential nominees together for the first time and presented an important examination of what each would bring to the role of Commander-in-Chief. Because of our event, national security has dominated the news cycle for days. Every major paper and news broadcast around the world has led with headlines about Putin, Iraq, ISIS, and intelligence briefings,” Lack said to staffers. “Matt did a tremendous job – driving one of the most serious discussions to date on these topics.”  The telecast drew 14.7 million viewers across NBC and MSNBC, according to Nielsen.

Lauer was criticized in social-media circles for, among other things, interrupting the Democratic candidate and emphasizing questions about the way she handled important emails while she was Secretary of State. He was also lambasted for not following up with the Republican contender when Trump insisted he had been opposed to the U.S. invasion of Iraq, thought it has been documented that the candidate has stated previously he favored the action.

NBC has reason to come to Lauer’s aid. The anchor is the linchpin of its “Today” program, which brings in millions of dollars each year in advertising revenue and is currently enmeshed in a scorched-earth battle with ABC rival “Good Morning America” for the lead among morning-news programs. Lauer has established a reputation for landing big interviews with people in the news, though a portion of those tend to be with celebrities or average people caught up in unique circumstances. Some of Lauer’s more prominent “gets” in recent months have included Olympic swimmer Ryan Lochte;  Rachel Dolezal, the former NAACP chapter president accused of trying to be black; or Pippa Middleton, the socialite and younger sister of the Duchess of Cambridge.

By traditional TV standards, the event was a success. It drew an outsize audience and established a new means of getting political candidates to take part in a televised event. The current election cycles has been jam-packed with “town halls,” phone interviews with politicians broadcast in place of an actual TV appearance, and primetime introductions to political contenders surrounded by their spouses and children. Use of the new formats rises as TV networks try to latch on to the frenzied public interest in a presidential race featuring a candidate with a celebrity background.

At first blush, NBC News had secured what looked to be another of these intriguing opportunities. To be sure, Trump and Clinton never faced each other during this week’s event, which was organized by Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, a non-profit that works with veterans of wars fought over the last two decades or so. Each candidate was interviewed for about half an hour, but Clinton and Trump did not face each other at any time. Dubbed a “Commander-in-Chief Forum,” the broadcast focused heavily on questions of national security, veterans’ issues and military affairs.  NBC News landed exclusive access to the candidates in advance of the more traditional debates organized by The Commission on Presidential Debates. Three debates involving Trump and Clinton and one involving candidates for Vice President are open to all media and it is expected that all major  news networks will broadcast them, along with C-SPAN, the public-affairs cable outlet.

At the same time, the broadcast has drawn extreme criticism, raising questions of whether anchors are responsible for fact-checking candidates on the fly, or letting their responses stand subject to later scrutiny. The 30-minute time limit may have NBC News juggling too many elements at once: a need to let candidates be heard on substantial questions, and allowing veterans present at the broadcast to speak and ask Clinton and Trump questions directly. Scrutiny of Lauer is sure to raise the bar for anchors like NBC’s Lester Holt, Fox News’ Chris Wallace, CNN’s Anderson Cooper and ABC’s Martha Raddatz, all of whom are slated to moderate the coming presidential debates.

If the brickbats are affecting Lauer, he isn’t showing it on air. During a broadcast of NBC’s “Today” show on Friday morning  just after 8 a.m., the host took part in a regular segment after the 8:00  in which the hosts discuss trending pop-culture tidbits. As co-anchor Savannah Guthrie and other “Today” personnel like Hoda Kotb, Carson Daly and meteorologist Dylan Dreyer chatted, Lauer cracked wise, telling his cohorts that he was “having a long week.”

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  1. funbunn40 says:

    I was extremely shocked & disappointed in Matt lauer’s handling of the Trump/i Clinton terview.He was downright rude, constantly interrupting Clinton, trying to prevent her from finishing her statement & he droned on about old news E mails. He gave Trump plenty of time to express his thoughts, but maybe Trump intimidates Matt. Matt lost a lot of points with a multitude of viewers. My daughter & sister called almost immediately with the same disgust.

  2. Tommy Carnes says:

    Trump proudly brags that he buys people to get what he wants. What was Lauer’s price? Christie let Trump steal $25 million he owed in taxes to NJ – & Trump rewarded him by paying Christie’s campaign bills. The Attorney General of FL announced she was going to investigate Trump U. She admits she then asked Trump for dough and right after he gave her campaign $25,000. she stopped the investigation.

    I don’t think Lauer is very smart, but he surely knew Trump was lying when he claimed he’d always opposed the Iraq War. How much did it take to buy you, LAUER?

  3. Cath says:

    How about asking the exact same question to both of them?

  4. Jon says:

    Hey, what’s the big deal. He just did the same thing the vast majority of the “news” media is doing – gushed over drumpf like a teenager girl gushed over the Biebs five or ten years ago, and put everything Hillary says or does under a microscope and try to turn it into a scandal. No double standard there, right? I mean, he’s drumpf! He’s the best drumpf there ever was or could be. No one is a better drumpf than drumpf, right? The “news” media loves drumpf. Far more than they love our country or their own children and grand children and future generations. So what if drumpf wins and we become a part of Russia. Who doesn’t love Putin and a good dictator. And who cares if it leads to the end of the world, right? We will all be with jebus and our dead relatives so, yay. Keep giving drumpf a free pass news readers, err I mean “journalists”.

  5. Laura Stout says:

    Lauer is not a seasoned news man, he is a morning show host. NBC should have appointed a respected professional in the news field to moderate. Veteran’s issues are important and thus serious questions should have been asked of both candidates about their plans for the future, making sure that both gave concise and informative answers. Enough about the e-mails, it’s done and nothing will change that; enough of Trumps’ boasting dribble, get him to ANSWER the questions instead of just saying how great he is.

  6. kodakay says:

    The interview was awful. He didn’t bother to fact-check anything said. It was indeed, a DISASTER.

  7. pickles says:

    Liberals. They can dish it out but can’t take it.

  8. Ken says:

    Well, of course the NBC News chief is gonna say Lauer did “a tremendous job”. What was he gonna say? That Lauer TANKED? Andrew Lack: millions of people disagree with you; I’m one of them.

  9. Keith Coppage says:

    Out of his league. Bring back Barbara or Dan Rather. Or Ann Curry!

  10. Matt says:

    Everyone from Democrat to Democrat was critical of the interview.

    Imagine that.

  11. Dean says:

    So everyone is on the attack for the simple fact that they think he was tougher on the Democrat than the Republican. Here I thought he was asking dumb questions or something.

    How ridiculously biased. Guess everyone would be attacking pundits who made fun of Lauer for being tough of Trump, if the situation was reversed.

  12. Geo says:

    Trump said he was great, that pretty much sums it up right there.
    No one talks up a glass of OJ and a bagel like Lauer

  13. Cass says:

    Meaning, ‘Trump has made us lots of money from his show. And he’ll make us even more money as President.’

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