NBC held a “Commander-in-Chief Forum” Wednesday night in which Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump appeared separately in half-hour segments. Moderator Matt Lauer, whose credentials appear to be based on conducting endless fluff interviews on NBC’s morning program, demonstrated he is completely out of his element when serious conversation is called for. As one commentator noted, even Ryan Lochte was able to roll over him.
Early in the Trump segment, Lauer questioned what in Trump’s life prepared him to make the decision to send American service members to war. He repeated his frequent assertion that he opposed the Iraq war from the beginning, disputing Clinton’s statement that he had initially supported it. This isn’t a “he said, she said” situation. It is a demonstrable fact that he had supported the war at its inception in an appearance on Howard Stern’s show. Given how frequently Trump’s claim has been refuted for over a year, it is unconscionable that a journalist would let him get away with an obvious lie.
Then we had Trump’s praise of Russian President Vladimir Putin as an effective leader with, according to Trump, approval ratings of 82 per cent. Setting aside the validity of polling in Russia when Putin has reportedly had opponents and journalists killed, a valid line of questioning would have been to ask Trump about his reported financial dealings with the Russian oligarchy. That, however, would have required Lauer to do some background work.
And we had the completely inane question to Trump about the confidential national security briefings he received upon becoming the Republic nominee. (This after Lauer spent a third of his time with Clinton on the possible mishandling of classified information from the email issue.) Lauer asked him if he learned anything alarming. Step back for a moment and think about what could possibly be an acceptable answer. It was a confidential national security briefing. He obviously should not disclose any specifics – indeed Lauer said he did not want any. So Trump, whose connection with the truth is merely coincidental, responded that he was “shocked” at a decision by President Obama and Hilary Clinton that was a “total disaster.” Now we can expect weeks of speculation from the far-right fever swamps as to what this could be. All because of Lauer’s incompetence.
Trump’s performance should give pause to anyone who thinks he is the most manifestly unfit candidate ever to run for the Presidency. His answers were a rambling mix of lies and bullshit that had no connection to reality. In a debate, Clinton will be able to call him on it. Journalists, however, should be more than transcribers of unfounded nonsense emanating from a candidate. Lauer demonstrated he was not up to that rudimentary standard.