The Slatest

NBC Is Making a Strong Play for CNN’s “Dumbest News Network” Title Belt

Matt Lauer at NBC’s “Commander-in-Chief Forum” on Wednesday in New York City.

Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

Matt Lauer is getting a lot of heat Thursday—including some anonymous criticism from inside his own company—for his impotent performance at Wednesday night’s NBC “Commander-in-Chief Forum,” during which he let Donald Trump get away with all manner of lies and nonsense.

Let’s consider what else NBC News has contributed to the national discourse lately.

1. It brought back Brian Williams to lead its MSNBC election coverage and has given him his own 11 p.m. show. Perhaps, on his show, Williams will consider interviewing the veterans who say that he still has never told the truth about the 2003 incident in which he claims to have been on board a helicopter that was part of a group of helicopters that were forced to the ground by insurgent fire in Iraq. (Incidentally, if you click that last link, you can see Williams making seemingly false statements about his Iraq story to none other than a credulous, underinformed Matt Lauer.)

2. It renewed its long association with Mark Halperin, America’s most proudly asubstantive horse-race journalist, a man who is incapable of considering any issue or event from any perspective other than how it might hypothetically be framed by hack campaign consultants in press releases or attack ads. Here, watch Halperin get a chance to interview Gary Johnson right after the Morning Joe appearance during which Johnson admitted he was unfamiliar with the Syrian city of Aleppo—only to ask Johnson an inane, nonsensical question about whether he felt that it would be fair to respond to the still-largely hypothetical criticism he’d be receiving for the gaffe by arguing that he had been set up by a tricky “gotcha” question.

(For the record, it wasn’t a gotcha question at all. The question was “What would you do, if you were elected, about Aleppo,” and the topic of the city’s current plight had been brought up several times on Morning Joe before Johnson’s appearance and is a real live issue in this election and in the world.)

3. Its nightly news anchor, Lester Holt, was selected by the Commission on Presidential Debates to moderate the first general-election debate on Sept. 26. As a fan of Dateline, which he also appears on, I have absolutely nothing against Lester Holt. He is an adept TV host. But he is not a political reporter with extensive experience speaking to political candidates or doing politics coverage. He is not someone who is versed in the art of getting the truth out of a politician who is trying not to tell it. Tellingly, Donald Trump likes him:

GOP presidential nominee Donald Trump, who is often combative with the media, told radio host Hugh Hewitt in a recent interview that selecting Holt wouldn’t be an issue.

“I think Lester Holt is a good guy,” Trump said when asked who he thought would be a fair moderator. Trump also told Time magazine earlier this month that “certain moderators would be unacceptable.”

If you’re a non-right-wing journalist in 2016 and Donald Trump is a fan of yours, you’re probably not being tough enough. And when you hand debates over to amiable hosts who aren’t deeply familiar with this year’s campaign, you get things like a credulous, uninformed Matt Lauer letting Trump get away with claiming he never supported the Iraq war. (Both the Lauer and Holt selections are particularly frustrating in light of the fact that NBC actually employs a number of more qualified potential moderators, including but not limited to Andrea Mitchell, Chris Matthews, Chuck Todd, Chris Hayes, Rachel Maddow, and Steve Kornacki.)

4. It crumpled against the onslaught of right-wing conspiracy wingnuts who claim that Hillary Clinton is seriously ill and ran a story about her coughing for a few seconds during a rally.

In summary: Watch out, CNN.