Before Matt Lauer’s name was added to the ever-expanding list of powerful media men reported to be serial sexual harassers, his uneven treatment of the presidential candidates—one an alleged sexual harasser and the other the first female major party nominee—during a September 2016 “Commander in Chief Forum” drew the ire of none other than Hillary Rodham Clinton. In her memoir What Happened, Clinton’s tone took on the type of scorn usually reserved for now-president Donald Trump as she described how the Today show host dogged her about her emails and then tossed Trump easy questions. “Trump,” the former Secretary of State wrote, “should have reported [Lauer’s] performance as an in-kind contribution.”
The grievances with Lauer that Clinton aired—and several critics, from Trevor Noah to Siri Hustvedt, echoed last fall—include Lauer’s fixation on her emails at the price of asking substantial foreign policy questions and his failure to contest Trump’s lie about opposing the Iraq War. Clinton also called out a textbook case of casually sexist behavior: “Lauer interrupted me before I began answering,” she wrote, and called the entire interview a “waste of time.”
NBC News fired Lauer from Today after the network received a formal complaint of workplace harassment; in a memo to employees, executive Andrew Lack said there was suspicion that “this may not have been an isolated incident.” But we can’t retroactively go back and scrub Lauer’s influence from the past years of political coverage. He may have been a morning show host rather than a hardnosed investigative reporter, but like Mark Halperin or Glenn Thrush, he has still helped shaped the narrative. “I was almost physically sick,” wrote Clinton in What Happened, reflecting on the imbalanced interview; her words feel even more apt now.