September 9, 2016

If Matt Lauer Were a Journalist

Wednesday night, NBC hosted their "Commander in Chief Forum" from the USS Intrepid.

Inexplicably, they had Matt Lauer do the interviews with Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump. I'm not sure if whoever they really wanted to do it was in the john when the assignment was handed out, or if there are still some pipe dreams over at 30 Rock that Lauer is somehow on a par with Tom Brokaw and able to cross from Today to tonight without flinching. Brokaw, not for nothing, likely would have done a fantastic job with the forum.

The show was doomed almost from the start: barely 27 minutes with each candidate to take questions not just from Lauer, but also from servicemen and women. Each of the audience questions were introduced by Hallie Jackson, who had to tell us who the person was, where they served, what they're doing now, whether they were a Democrat or Republican - and that they had a question for Mrs. Clinton or for Mr. Trump, which was already more than obvious, since they were standing with Jackson.

Before the start of the forum, I wondered on Facebook whether questions to Clinton would focus on the past or the future, and whether questions to Trump would focus on the future or the past. I had my answer pretty quickly, especially on the Clinton side of the equation.

Not being a journalist, Lauer decided that the best thing to do with his limited time Clinton was to spend fully one third of it -- between 10 and 12 minutes, depending on which clock you watched - talking about the emails. (Is that sufficient emphasis for everyone?)

For the record: Clinton has apologized for using a privater server. She has indicated it was a mistake to use a private server. She has said she won't use a private server ever again. She indicated that she never sent correctly marked emails -- those with a header and one of the three 'classifications' from her server. She has said she takes classified information very seriously.  She's said all of these thing dozens of times. It's now up to people to either believe her or disbelieve her, trust her or not trust her.  Oh, she's also talked about the trust or the lack thereof, also dozens of times.  Again, believe her or not, trust her or not.

But can we please stop wasting time on this, and instead let her tell us what she wants to do if elected, so we can decide to trust her on that, or not?

When it was Trump's turn, Lauer asked him how he has been preparing for being Commander in Chief. Trump provided the same basic answer as he did when asked about sacrifices he had made: he built a company, he traveled a lot, he's done "tremendously well dealing with China and dealing with so many of the countries that are just ripping this country"(he actually said that). You know, the kind of stuff everyone does to get ready for commanding the world's police force. And he has good judgment, he's "called so many of the shots" whatever on earth that means. Those statements weren't challenged by Lauer.

Nor did Lauer seriously press Trump on some of his campaign statements, either.
Lauer: so let me read some of the things you've said. "I know more about ISIS than the generals do. Believe me." Was that the truth?
Trump: Well, the generals under Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton have not been successful. ISIS...
Lauer: Do you know more about ISIS than they do?
Trump: I think under the leadership of Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton, the generals have been reduced to rubble...
Then they had an exchange on Patton and MacArthur, and grave-rolling, and moved on.  And it got worse.

Lauer decided to ask Trump about the intelligence briefings he now receives, opening with this question:
Did you learn new things in that briefing?
Seriously? That's the question?

Here's Trump's answer:
First of all, I have great respect for the people that gave us the briefings.  We -- they were terrific people. They were experts on Iraq and Iran and different parts of -- and Russia. But, yes, there was one thing that shocked me. And it just seems to me that what they said President Obama and Hillary Clinton and John Kerry, who is another total disaster, did exactly the opposite. (emphasis added)
Trump basically said that the President and the current and former Secretaries of State did exactly the opposite of what the intelligence briefers told them, which is an of itself is absurd, since the intelligence people don't tell them what to do (and the fact that having a conversation about the confidential security briefings in this forum is absurd). Instead of probing for more info, we got this:
Lauer: Did you learn anything in that briefing -- again, not going into specifics -- that makes you reconsider some of the things you say you can accomplish, like defeating ISIS quickly?
Trump: No, I didn't learn anything from that standpoint. What I did learn is that our leadership, Barack Obama, did not follow our experts and our truly -- when they call it intelligence, it's there for a reason -- what our experts said to do. (Lauer tries to go to Hallie Jackson, but Trump keeps talking) And I was very, very surprised. In almost every instance. And I could tell you. I have pretty good with the body language. I could tell they were not happy. Our leaders did not follow what they were recommending.
 Lauer: Hallie?
Any reporter -- even the worst of  the worst -- would have asked an actual follow up question.

Fox News or Breitbart would have given Trump time to flesh out his answer, embellish it a little more, give some details on how the intelligence people let him know Obama et al did the opposite of what they recommended. He would certainly have had time to bash everyone a little more, make a few more outrageous statements, which would have been met with the standard "Oh, golly, gee gosh, that Barack Hussein Obama, whatever will we do about him?"  

WaPo or the New York Times, outlets that have "been mean to" Trump, would have asked him why he thought that the people who did the briefings were policy makers or policy recommenders, when that's not their role? Or what kind of body language was used to telegraph their dismay? Was it eye rolling? Was it getting all squirmy in their chairs? And just about everyone would have asked if he truly thought any of his comments were appropriate, given the confidential nature of the briefings he received? And whether he thought it was appropriate to let our enemies know that our leaders ignored their intelligence briefings, especially since he's against telegraphing our next steps, and we need to be unpredictable?

But Matt Lauer? Nah - let's go to Hallie for another audience question.

I tell you, the Commander in Chief forum would have sounded a lot different with a journalist doing the questions.