Lauer astonishes. So does Chait!


We spot one silver lining:
We were struck by Jonathan Chait's reaction to last night's gong-show.

Chait watched NBC's hour-long "Commander-in-Chief" forum. Headline included, he starts today's post like this:
CHAIT (9/8/16): Matt Lauer’s Pathetic Interview of Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump Is the Scariest Thing I’ve Seen in This Campaign

I had not taken seriously the possibility that Donald Trump could win the presidency until I saw Matt Lauer host an hour-long interview with the two major-party candidates.
Lauer’s performance was not merely a failure, it was horrifying and shocking. The shock, for me, was the realization that most Americans inhabit a very different news environment than professional journalists. I not only consume a lot of news, since it’s my job, I also tend to focus on elite print-news sources. Most voters, and all the more so undecided voters, subsist on a news diet supplied by the likes of Matt Lauer. And the reality transmitted to them from Lauer matches the reality of the polls, which is a world in which Clinton and Trump are equivalently flawed.
I have no idea why Chait didn't think that Trump could win until last night. It has been obvious for some time that Candidate Trump has a real chance to win. For some reason, this only occurred to Chait last night, and it seems to have come as a shock.

Even more remarkably, I have no idea why Chait thinks he saw Lauer treat Candidates Clinton and Trump as if they were "equivalently flawed." It's hard to know why he'd think he saw that. Consider the way the two half-hour sessions began.

Lauer started Clinton off with a lengthy set of questions about the email matter. The questions have all been asked and answered about a million times by now. Perhaps for that reason, Lauer gave his initial question on this topic a bit of a booster shot:
LAUER (9/7/16): 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 email and server to communicate while you were secretary of state. You’ve said it’s a mistake.

CLINTON: Mm-hmm.

LAUER: You said you made not the best choice. You were communicating on highly sensitive topics. Why wasn’t it more than a mistake? Why wasn’t it disqualifying, if you want to be commander-in-chief?
We'd have to say that's amazing. In his first real question of the night, Lauer directly suggested that Clinton's conduct may have been "disqualifying."

Lauer burned almost forty percent of Clinton's segment with this topic, asking questions which have been asked a million times by now. When his own inquisition was done, the first question from the audience concerned the same topic.

We assume that the audience questions were screened. The first audience question was this:
QUESTION: Secretary Clinton, thank you very much for coming tonight. As a naval flight officer, I held a top secret sensitive compartmentalized information clearance. And that provided me access to materials and information highly sensitive to our warfighting capabilities. Had I communicated this information not following prescribed protocols, I would have been prosecuted and imprisoned.

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?
We assume the questions were screened. That said:

In Lauer's first question, he suggested that Clinton's conduct may have been "disqualifying." In the first audience question, Clinton was told that she had "clearly corrupted our national security." It's suggested she should be in prison.

Liberal lambs, can we talk? The notion that Clinton is disqualifyingly corrupt has been the essence of the press corps' framing of her over the past several years. Those "questions" define an aggressive attack. They land in a well-scripted sweet spot.

By way of contrast, Candidate Trump has done nothing "disqualifying," to judge from his treatment by Lauer. It's amazing that someone like Lauer would feel free to inject a suggestion of that type into a campaign forum. But if he made such a suggestion to Clinton, he might at least want to go after Trump with an initial high hard one.

Nothing like that occurred. Lauer tossed some slow-pitch softballs as he started his questions for Trump. The first question from the audience carried no harsh accusation:
QUESTION: Mr. Trump, over the past 15 years, a lot of U.S. troops have bled and died securing towns and provinces from Iraq to Afghanistan, only to have insurgent groups like ISIS spring back the moment we leave. Now, you’ve claimed to have a secret plan to defeat ISIS. But you’re hardly the first politician to promise a quick victory and a speedy homecoming. So assuming we do defeat ISIS, what next? What is your plan for the region to ensure that a group like them doesn’t just come back?
In essence, Candidate Clinton was accused of being "clearly corrupt." Candidate Trump was asked to discuss his plan.

Other weird inconsistencies were visible. Quite weirdly, Lauer scolded Clinton, not once but twice, when she criticized Trump at the end of her segment (without even mentioning his name.) According to Lauer, she had broken the agreement with which each segment began, the agreement to put such attacks aside.

During the second half hour, Trump repeatedly attacked Obama and Clinton (and Kerry) by name. Lauer never said a word about any broken agreements.

We'll agree with Chait on one point. Last night's session was horrific, in an array of ways. So was the subsequent punditry, which we'll hope to discuss tomorrow. Appearing with Anderson Cooper, Nia-Malika Henderon gave an appalling review of one statement by Clinton—an appalling pundit review for the ages.

Later, on today's Morning Joe, the children went on and on, then on and on, about Clinton's failed "stylistics." In what way had her "stylistics" failed? None of the children explained.

There's only one term for these broken-souled ghouls; they're not recognizably human. Wealth and celebrity fry human brains. Their brains burned away long ago.

Somehow, something resembling this realization may have come to Chait last night. In the process, it finally occurred to him that Candidate Trump might win the November election. Welcome back to earth!

We think Trump has an excellent chance, and we think that people like Chait have helped create the world in which that might happen. Meanwhile, have you tried to fight your way through Josh Marshall's account of last evening's forum?

Sad! For now, one last rumination:

Has Candidate Trump ever committed an act which might be seen as "disqualifying?" We think it's astonishing that someone like Lauer would inject such a suggestion into a presidential forum. But if we agree that sauce for the goose might sometimes be sauce for the gander, we can think of at least one offense with which Trump might have been confronted:

Didn't he once spend a year lying about the birth of the reigning commander-in-chief? Had there been any truth to the various claims he advanced? Had everything he said been a lie? Was the entire thing slander?

Would it be too much to ask about that at a commander-in-chief forum? Given prevailing rules of the guild, yes, it plainly would be.

We expect to discuss more aspects of last night's horrible gong-show. For now, let's imagine a silver lining in the event of a win by Trump.

Based on reactions to last night's forum, it might finally happen! If Candidate Trump ends up in the White House, career liberals might finally rebel, right out loud, against the appalling behavior of the boys and girls of the mainstream press corps.

The Chaits have averted their gaze forever. For at least one of their number, last night may have been too much.


  1. A sense a bit of a silver lining already, the reactions to this show that just maybe we are not going to "take it" in Bob's well worn phrase. I also don't see credible polls suggesting Clinton's post convention lead is wavering much. When they actually face off, he's finished.

  2. Sadly, until the boys and girls in the press corps actually own the media that employ them, they will do what the boss tells them. As long as millionaires own the media, our democracy will hear only the narratives they care to create, and those narratives serve their own interests, not those of the American people.

  3. Sadly, until the boys and girls in the press corps actually own the media that employ them, they will do what the boss tells them. As long as millionaires own the media, our democracy will hear only the narratives they care to create, and those narratives serve their own interests, not those of the American people.

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  5. Candidate Trump was asked to discuss his plan.

    In a way this was a gotcha question. It exposes the fact that Trump has no plan to fulfill his wonderful promises.

  6. It was a stupid question. The only correct answer is "I won't reveal my military strategy to anyone except my cabinet and the Pentagon."
    It may be bs but any other reply would be as stupid as the question.

  7. Lauer didn't scold Trump for violating the rule about attacking his opponent because she had already nullified it. Trump had no obligation to unilaterally disarm.

    1. If they both agreed to the rule, then Lauer should have called them both out for violating it. If your neighbor cheats on his taxes, you don't get to use that as an excuse to cheat on yours. You can see the ultimate in this kind of "reasoning" when Trump refuses to release his tax returns because he thinks Clinton hasn't released enough of her emails.

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