Moderating a presidential debate is not a child’s play — particularly when it involves asking serious questions to candidates like Donald Trump, who love to tout their nonexistent expertise on every topic and flip-flop on major issues at the speed of light.
NBC’s “Commander-in-Chief Forum” on Wednesday night was the first time Democratic presidential hopeful Hillary Clinton shared a stage with her Republican rival, Trump. For any journalist, hosting this event would have been an excellent chance to prove their broadcasting mettle.
However, Matt Lauer, the man tasked with moderating it, totally blew the whole thing up with his shortcomings. Critics and other journalists slammed the “Today” show host almost instantly for failing to fact-check the candidates and for posing superficial questions to both Clinton and Trump.
During the first half of the event, Lauer was criticized for opening the show by grilling the former secretary of state about her ongoing email scandal — despite the Commander-in-Chief Forum being geared toward veterans’ issues.
He questioned her over security matters and covert topics, such as the drone program, before going on to other topics such as ISIS. He then attempted to hurry Clinton along, insisting there was not enough time although he had spent most of those 30 minutes interrupting the candidate.
LET ME FINISH pic.twitter.com/vDQtZ09lh6— Charlie Spiering (@charliespiering) September 8, 2016
Boy, the real problem with this format is there is just not enough time for Matt Lauer to talk.— Mark Sumner (@Devilstower) September 8, 2016
Matt Lauer, you have just surrendered your credentials as a legitimate journalist. Your bias was palpable and offensive. Shame.— Court is In Recess (@SamKeaton4) September 8, 2016
.@MLauer spent 10 min on emails, something that's been beaten to death, hoping for some gotcha scoop. He spent rest of time cutting her off.— Wilson (@wc_thats_me) September 8, 2016
After being criticized for his aggressive questioning of Clinton, Lauer drew more ire by repeatedly asking Trump open-ended questions that the candidate easily ignored or downright evaded.
Moreover, the moderator also failed to fact-check the billionaire business mogul on his claim about not supporting the Iraq invasion in 2002. When Trump wrongfully blurted, “I was totally against the war in Iraq” in a room full of Iraq War veterans, Lauer did not correct him.
“The main thing is, I have great judgment,” Trump said. “I heard Hillary Clinton say I was not against the war in Iraq. I was totally against the war in Iraq. You can look at Esquire magazine from 2004. You can look at before that. And I was against the war in Iraq, I said it's going to totally destabilize the Middle East, which it has. It's been a disastrous war. And perhaps almost as bad was the way Barack Obama got out. That was a disaster.”
The thing is, Trump really was not against the war in Iraq. The United States invaded Iraq in 2003 and the debate over authorizing the use of military force was in 2002. During that time, Trump supported the invasion of Iraq.
Earlier this year, BuzzFeed unearthed a Howard Stern show transcript to prove this.
How can someone like @MLauer not set the record straight on Trump's bogus claim of being against the war in Iraq?— Glenn Kessler (@GlennKesslerWP) September 8, 2016
Q from Lauer: How do you take the oil in the Middle East?— Mark Murray (@mmurraypolitics) September 8, 2016
Trump: You would leave a group behind, and you take the oil
Basically universal condemnation from journalists for Lauer letting Trump get away with Iraq War comments: pic.twitter.com/S0O2BvepDr— andrew kaczynski (@BuzzFeedAndrew) September 8, 2016
Multiple questions about email, Trump lies blatantly -- not for the first time -- about Iraq, no followup. Priorities!— Paul Krugman (@paulkrugman) September 8, 2016
So @MLauer’s plan is just to let Trump lie about his past statements on Iraq?— Matthew Yglesias (@mattyglesias) September 8, 2016
It was a microcosm of coverage in this campaign, where HRC is questioned like a person running for president, and Trump...isn't.— Jamelle Bouie (@jbouie) September 8, 2016
Lauer also concluded his interview with Trump with a softball question.
“You said in a speech today, ‘History shows that when America is not prepared, is when danger is the greatest,'” Lauer said before asking, “Will you be prepared on day one if you’re elected president of the United States to tackle these complex national security issues?”
“One hundred percent,” Trump insisted.
To sum it all up:
I think Matt Lauer @MLauer was trying desperately to impress others in the press to prove he's not just a morning show lightweight. Failed.— Kurt Eichenwald (@kurteichenwald) September 8, 2016