On Wednesday night, Matt Lauer quizzed both presidential nominees for NBC’s Commander-In-Chief Forum, but the evening was a colossal mess and a wasted opportunity. Lauer peppered Hillary Clinton with several questions — none of which forged into new territory — about her private email server. Clinton ended up admitting (again) that her use of the server was wrong, which she’s already said before in multiple forums. To compensate for this extended segment, Lauer rushed Clinton along during more potentially fruitful subjects like the fight against ISIS.
Lauer also acted like Mr. Interruption when it came to Clinton, but he was plenty patient with his other guest. He let Donald Trump breeze through the evening unchallenged, even — ridiculously enough — when Trump repeated his false Iraq war claim for the umpteenth time. This was a moment that Lauer should have been prepared for with a follow-up question to press Trump for the truth, but instead, Lauer let it slide. Surely, Lauer is aware of how Trump told Howard Stern (in a 2002 moment spread across the internet by BuzzFeed) how he supported invading Iraq: “Yeah, I guess so. I wish the first time it was done correctly.” This is a statement that Trump has continued to lie about, and with Lauer, Trump said this:
“I have great judgment. I have good judgment. I know what’s going on. I’ve called so many of the shots. And I happened to hear Hillary Clinton say that I was not against the war in Iraq. I was totally against the war in Iraq — from — you can look at Esquire magazine from ’04, you can look at before that. I was against the war in Iraq because I said it would totally destabilize the Middle East, which it has. It has absolutely been a disastrous war.”
Here, Trump not only got the interview venue wrong (Esquire rather than Howard Stern), but also the year. In addition, Trump once supported the Libya invasion, which was also a moment preserved by BuzzFeed: “And at this point, if you don’t get rid of Gaddafi, it’s a major, major black eye for this country.” But throughout his campaign and while speaking to Lauer, Trump tossed out that Clinton “made a terrible mistake on Libya.”
During her time on the stage, Clinton addressed Trump-on-Iraq with Lauer: “My opponent was for the war in Iraq. He says he wasn’t. You can — you can go back and look at the record. He supported it. He told Howard Stern he supported it.” But Lauer shut Clinton down and moved to another question:
Lauer: Let me go to another–
Clinton: He refuses–
Clinton: –to take responsibility for his support.
Lauer: Let me go to–
Lauer: –another question.
Clinton: –that is a judgment issue.
Lauer: Hallie [Jackson]….
Especially for moments like these, Lauer received a large wave of backlash after the broadcast. NYMag‘s Jonathan Chait called what he watched “pathetic” and the “scariest thing” he’d seen in this election: “Lauer’s performance was not merely a failure, it was horrifying and shocking.” The Huffington Post’s Jessica Schulberg couldn’t believe how “In a room full of Iraq War veterans, Lauer didn’t challenge Trump’s false claim. Trump got multiple deferments, mocked POW, attacked Gold Star family. Yet Lauer doesn’t bring up at veterans event.” And the New York Times’ Michael M. Grynbaum called out Lauer for allowing Trump to run the interview and “appear[ing] flummoxed by his subject’s linguistic feints.”
On Twitter, journalists and writers shook their heads at Lauer.
And the floodgates opened over Lauer, who — thankfully — won’t be moderating any debates this election season.
The last word comes with a reminder about Lauer’s recent Ryan Lochte interview mess. Lauer’s interview style generally fits into the infotainment spectrum, but here, he didn’t even attempt to be balanced.