Matt Lauer was a failure as an interviewer during the NBC News’ Commander-in-Chief forum for many reasons, the most obvious of which was that he allowed Donald Trump to repeat an often-repeated lie about not supporting the Iraq war and failed to press Trump on issues that were directly relevant to the audience of veterans.
But Lauer also failed the women, girls, boys and men watching when he repeatedly interrupted Clinton and talked down to her. Paternalistic condescension has no place on national TV (if you want a heap of this head over to Fox News), especially when dealing with the first female major party nominee.
This was the huge failing and it must not be allowed during the debates.
Not because it hurt Clinton, which it did in subtle ways but she also held her own and dealt with it, eventually talking right over Lauer in an attempt to answer a question (something Trump never actually managed to do). But because it hurts the viewers – it hurts our society, by saying it’s perfectly OK to treat women like bad little girls who need to be scolded, while treating a man who is lying to you as if he were due your deference, as if he were a King.
There is a trickle down effect when viewing a very popular and admired political figure like Hillary Clinton being treated like her word is worth less than a man’s, especially a man who is lying. This is male entitlement, underscored for the world to watch.
Lauer interrupted Clinton more than he did Trump in a glaringly obvious way. This wasn’t because Clinton was talking too long or lying; in fact, Lauer let Trump ramble on, repeatedly and consistently breaking the rules Lauer set in the beginning of not bashing the other candidate but rather speaking about your own policies.
This is anther thing Hillary Clinton didn’t do; Clinton followed the rules, like any serious candidate should.
So Clinton followed the rules and got sneered at, while Trump broke the rules and was not corrected when he lied. This is called a double standard.
Trump asserted his privilege to speak over Lauer, and Lauer acknowledged and respected Trump’s inherent privilege. Trump nattered on spreading propaganda and Lauer laid down and lit the path instead of calling it out.
It matters. It must not be allowed to continue in the debates to this degree. Yes, it exists and it will be an obstacle, but it must not be allowed to exist in the Lauer frame of such glaring contempt for women. This isn’t Lauer’s first brush with misogyny.
Networks who are handling the debates need to show moderators this forum, count up the interruptions, the pushback and the tone, and teach their moderators not to behave this way.
This is not to suggest that the press shouldn’t be tough on Clinton. I have been saying she should do more press conferences for quite a while now, because even when the questions are stupid or pushing yet another Republican-created fake scandal, this is one of the jobs of a candidate and a president – to answer the questions of the press.
But it’s possible for the press to be tough and not humiliate themselves in the process. It’s possible to be tough and not send women and girls the message that they will be treated like a second-class candidate while you wipe the spit off of a con artist’s shoes.
Conservatives are trying to suggest that Matt Lauer previously being a member of the Clinton Global Initiative means he can’t possibly be a sexist.
That is ridiculous. Sexism is pervasive in the culture, it has nothing to do with liking a person or even supporting them. This is the “I don’t hate gay people, I have a gay friend, I just don’t think they should have equal rights” argument.
Bottom line: Sexism has no place dominating a political forum.
Yes, we have higher standards in the news business, as we should. And journalists were mostly in agreement that Lauer failed this mission.
In addition to allowing Donald Trump to misstate Hilary Clinton’s position on the VA, which she had just once again detailed by the way, Matt Lauer failed to ask Trump, at a veterans forum no less, about Donald Trump’s four deferements from the Vietnam draft, denigrating the Khan family, saying John McCain wasn’t a hero because he got captured, saying he would fix the VA in part by giving access to private doctors and hospitals, while not acknowledging that this is already being done and isn’t working, and suggesting that his time in prep school was like serving in the military.
Some of this could have been general incompetence with a political interview on this level, but Lauer should have expected the Iraq war lie from Trump, since he repeats it consistently. And there is no reason Lauer shouldn’t have anticipated Trump’s reliance on fiction that feeds the audience in front of him rather than facts.
Sure, this is perhaps indicative of Lauer not being prepared or ready for an interview of this level. But that doesn’t explain or excuse his interrupting Clinton before she even started answering a question to chide her like a child, telling her to keep it short.
Lauer felt comfortable using Clinton to try to establish his authority, but when faced with a puffed up man who was lying to the audience, Lauer no longer asserted his dominance and control and instead reverted to deference. He pushed Trump with a few questions but immediately fell back into subservience when Trump failed to answer the question.
This is the way our culture is, and we can’t change it in time for this election to resemble anything fair. But that doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be brought up because if we don’t call this out when it happens so obviously as it did last night, it enables it to continue.
The media must be better than this, especially when dealing with this woman and this man – a woman as serious and prepared as Clinton, with her background, deserves respect. A man who can’t even answer a basic question about the job for which he’s applying, who lies to you when you ask it, does not deserve to be given deference.
Hillary Clinton can hold her own, this isn’t her first rodeo. Clinton intimidates Putin, while Putin is playing Donald Trump like Trump is his personal toy. But that doesn’t make this right.
The way Matt Lauer spoke to Hillary Clinton, the contempt and assumed guilt on matters about which she was actually already cleared – this was sexism on display. The women in my twitter stream were not confused, they all recognized it. But many men tried to tell me it wasn’t sexism, it was Lauer being super smart or Lauer just not being prepared. But men aren’t the experts on sexism.
I am an expert on sexism in the work place, and this is exactly what it looks like. It’s not acceptable, it’s real, it happened, it’s happening, and we need to be better than this. And again because patterns matter, this isn’t Lauer’s first go at pushing an inherently sexist narrative.
Matt Lauer’s bias against women destroyed his ability to pass for a journalist last night. He failed to inform the people, and that was his job. Allowing misogyny on this level is a black mark for NBC. Media outlets need to get it together; this attitude toward women is so old school and stale.
Not only did he hurt the American public, but he sent signals to young girls that this is how they will be treated even when they are the smartest person in the room.
Lauer’s treatment normalized misogyny for the entire audience who saw it.
Ms. Jones is the co-founder/ editor-in-chief of PoliticusUSA and a member of the White House press pool.
Sarah hosts Politicus News and co-hosts Politicus Radio. Her analysis has been featured on several national radio, television news programs and talk shows, and print outlets including Stateside with David Shuster, as well as The Washington Post, The Atlantic Wire, CNN, MSNBC, The Week, The Hollywood Reporter, and more.
Sarah is a member of the Society of Professional Journalists.