Last night, Matt Lauer of NBC News’ Today Show, hosted a Clinton-Trump forum, rather a prelude to the upcoming debate(s). The topic was what it takes to be Commander-in-Chief, and each candidate was to be interviewed for 30 minutes, during which they would be asked questions about their views and qualifications for that specific part of the job of president. Matt Lauer was perhaps the most biased interviewer I have ever seen on this type of an event, where the interviewer is supposed to be completely neutral. He interrupted Clinton numerous times, reminded her frequently that time was limited, and led his questions to her in a direction that had nothing whatsoever to do with the job of Commander-in-Chief. You can read the full transcript here, but I will share a few of the “highlights”.
LAUER: What is the most important characteristic that a commander-in-chief can possess?
CLINTON: Steadiness. An absolute rock steadiness, and mixed with strength to be able to make the hard decisions. And when you’re sitting in the Situation Room … what you want in a president, a commander-in-chief, is someone who listens, who evaluates what is being told to him or her, who is able to sort out the very difficult options being presented…
LAUER: You’re talking about judgment.
CLINTON: … and then makes the decision. Makes the decision, that’s right.
LAUER: So judgment is a key.
CLINTON: Temperament and judgment, yes.
LAUER: The word “judgment” has been used a lot around you, Secretary Clinton, over the last year-and-a-half, and in particular concerning your use of your personal e-mail and server to communicate while you were secretary of state. You’ve said it’s a mistake.
After leading her to the word “judgement” and then using that as a springboard into a discussion about her emails, Lauer persisted with questions about her emails for a significant amount of time. Ms. Clinton kept her wits and answered his questions patiently and intelligently, despite their repetitiveness. Next they moved on to questions from military veterans in the audience. I strongly suspect that the questions were filtered or scripted, because of their nature.
Lieutenant John Lester, US Navy (ret): “Secretary Clinton, how can you expect those such as myself who were and are entrusted with America’s most sensitive information to have any confidence in your leadership as president when you clearly corrupted our national security?”
And then, another attack by Lauer:
LAUER: Secretary Clinton, let’s talk about your vote in favor of the war in Iraq. You’ve since said it was a mistake. I asked before for people to raise their hand if you served in Iraq. Can you do it again? How do you think these people feel when the person running to be their commander-in-chief says her vote to go to war in Iraq was a mistake?
CLINTON: Look, I think that the decision to go to war in Iraq was a mistake. And I have said that my voting to give President Bush that authority was, from my perspective, my mistake. I also believe that it is imperative that we learn from the mistakes … But I will say this. I’m asking to be judged on the totality of my record.
The Q&A continued, with a few more questions from veterans in the audience and a few more from Lauer himself, to which Clinton gave sound responses, while Lauer continually interrupted and rushed her along. And then it was Trump’s turn.
LAUER: What have you experienced in your personal life or your professional life that you believe prepares you to make the decisions that a commander-in-chief has to make?
TRUMP: Well, I’ve built a great company. I’ve been all over the world. I’ve dealt with foreign countries. I’ve done very well, as an example, tremendously well dealing with China and dealing with so many of the countries that are just ripping this country. They are just taking advantage of us like nobody’s ever seen before. And I’ve had great experience dealing on an international basis.
LAUER: But what have you done in your life that prepares you to send men and women of the United States into harm’s way?
TRUMP: Well, I think the main thing is I have great judgment. I have good judgment. I know what’s going on. I’ve called so many of the shots … I was totally against the war in Iraq. And I was against the war in Iraq because I said it’s going to totally destabilize the Middle East, which it has. It has absolutely been a disastrous war, and by the way, perhaps almost as bad was the way Barack Obama got out. That was a disaster.
It is well-documented that Trump initially did support the war in Iraq, yet Lauer did not question Trump about his statement. Even the mainstream are asking why. Now on to a question about Trump’s temperament.
LAUER: You said something recently that I found interesting. You admitted that sometimes in the heat of a debate or when you’re talking about a lot of issues you say things that you later regret. So can we afford that with a commander-in-chief — to have a commander-in-chief who says things that he later regrets?
TRUMP: Well, when you say regret, yeah, sure, I regret. But in the meantime, I beat 16 people and here I am. So, you know, to a certain extent there is a regret. I would have liked to have done it in a nicer manner. But I had 16 very talented people that I had to go through. And that was a lot of people.
LAUER: But when you say…
TRUMP: That was a record, Matt. That was a record in the history of Republican politics. I was able to get more votes than anybody ever has gotten in the history of Republican politics.
And so it goes. You all know enough about how Trump gets around and under actually answering a question with specifics, and this was no exception. Just more blowing his own trumpet, as opposed to Clinton who actually answered questions with policy-driven goals in mind. I have recounted but a small bit of the interviews, so please follow the link I included at the beginning and read the rest for yourself.
Matt Lauer is a seasoned interviewer, having been with the Today Show since 1994. In the words of New York Times reporter Michael Grynbaum, “Mr. Lauer found himself besieged on Wednesday evening by critics of all political stripes, who accused the anchor of unfairness, sloppiness and even sexism in his handling of the event.” One final note: At the beginning of each interview, Lauer cautioned the candidates that they were to confine themselves to talking about their own qualifications rather than using it as a forum to bash their opponents. Here is how it was posed to each:
- To Clinton: “To the best of your ability tonight, can we talk about your qualities and your qualifications to be commander-in-chief and not use this as an opportunity to attack Mr. Trump, all right? And I’ll ask him the exact same thing.” Her response: “I think that’s an exactly right way to proceed.”
- To Trump: “ … as much as possible I’d like you to tell our veterans and our people at home why you are prepared for the role of commander-in-chief and try to keep the attacks to a minimum.” And Trump’s response: “To a minimum, absolutely. I guess. Was I supposed to answer this question?”
Predictably, neither completely adhered to the admonition, but Clinton only mentioned Trump once, in the last 30 seconds, and Lauer commented on it. Trump mentioned both Clinton and Obama several times and was not called on it. This is but a taste of things to come, folks, so prepare yourselves!