NBC’s Matt Lauer has landed some of the biggest interviews and highest-profile hosting roles out there over the last month, but many of them haven’t gone well for him, with his performance moderating last week’s presidential forum drawing particular flak from across the board and being called “a disaster” by anonymous executives at his own network. Despite that, Lauer continues to get prominent interviews, and the latest is with NFL commissioner Roger Goodell. That interview was taped Friday morning and has already partially aired on NBC platforms such as Sunday Night Football, but will air in its entirety on Today Wednesday.
If this clip is any indication of the interview, Lauer is still following the soft-soap protocol that earned him criticism at the Olympics and the presidential forum, letting Goodell wax on about safety and concussion protocol improvements without asking about the elephant in the room. That would be the countless unpunished or lightly-punished head shots Panthers’ quarterback Cam Newton took the previous night, and the decision not to pull him from the game and evaluate him for a concussion. Instead of pursuing that logical topic or challenging Goodell with a follow-up, Lauer asks about something that happened last year, and then simply gives Goodell a platform to state the league’s supposedly-hanged policies, proving about as useful as a press release:
This isn’t the first time we’ve seen a less-than-journalistically-rigorous approach from Lauer. He was a key part of NBC’s Rio Olympics coverage, but took criticism for glib comments, lack of regional knowledge and ill-advised jokes during the Opening Ceremonies, and then breathlessly relayed Ryan Lochte’s over-the-phone account of being robbed without any attempt at asking hard questions or verifying the story. Lauer then landed an exclusive redemptive sitdown with Lochte, and that went about as well as you would expect, with Lauer providing a forum for Lochte to sniffle to the world about his “exaggerations.” But hey, that’s apparently what NBC wanted, as Today executives were reportedly upset with Al Roker for daring to criticize Lochte on air.
It’s the presidential forum that was really an unmitigated debacle, though, and it particularly illustrated Lauer’s lack of ability to be a tough interviewer or to challenge his subjects’ assertions, even when they’re demonstrably false. He also took flak for showing limited or no knowledge of many key issues, for repeatedly interrupting Hillary Clinton’s answers, and for spending 10 minutes talking about Clinton’s e-mails while glossing over other subjects. A NBC executive told CNN’s Brian Stelter it was a “disaster,” and James Poniewozik had an utterly scathing review of Lauer’s efforts in The New York Times:
The NBC presidential forum on Wednesday night in Manhattan brought together the candidates Hillary Clinton and Donald J. Trump to try to determine who has the strength, preparation and presence of mind to lead during a time of crisis.
It sure wasn’t Matt Lauer.
In an event aboard the decommissioned aircraft carrier Intrepid, the “Today” host was lost at sea. Seemingly unprepared on military and foreign policy specifics, he performed like a soldier sent on a mission without ammunition, beginning with a disorganized offensive, ending in a humiliating retreat.
Perhaps it’s Lauer’s lack of ability as a tough questioner that proved appealing to Goodell and the NFL, though. Goodell has previously shown that he prefers talking to sympathetic, soft-soaping interviewers, as with his appearance on ESPN’s Mike and Mike (a show former ESPN colleague Colin Cowherd aptly dubbed “Mickey and Mickey in the morning” for its safe, non-controversial approach, and an interview former ESPN colleague Bill Simmons called “Mike and Mike giving Goodell a lap dance“). If you’re looking to rehabilitate your much-maligned image, Lauer seems like the guy to call. Just don’t try and change Today, though. Apparently, that’s the one thing he has a backbone about.