It’s tough to be a moderator during a high-stakes presidential election. One misstep, and accusations of bias are bound to immediately rain down on your head.
But even assuming that critics will be quick to cry foul, the early reviews of Matt Lauer’s performance on Wednesday night were brutal. The Today Show host was almost instantly pilloried for failing to fact-check the candidates and for posing superficial questions to both Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump during the NBC News forum.
Clinton got tougher questions, but also got visibly irritated and defensive. Trump got mostly softballs. But he rode over them.— Maggie Haberman (@maggieNYT) September 8, 2016
Matt Lauer is clearly more comfortable asking Rita Wilson about her favorite healthy summer recipes— Bobby Big Wheel (@BobbyBigWheel) September 8, 2016
One thing we can all agree on is that Matt Lauer is terrible. Bad format, I know, but still terrible— John Bresnahan (@BresPolitico) September 8, 2016
Could we get questions of true importance regarding future of country's engagement w world. Matt Lauer is Today show host, wrong for this--— Katrina vandenHeuvel (@KatrinaNation) September 8, 2016
Others noted that despite extensive questions about the FBI investigation into her private email server, Clinton got away without follow-up questions after promising to never send ground troops to Iraq "ever again":
Lauer getting rightly whacked for Trump interview, but Clinton half also lame: Follow up on email but not Syria? Not ground troops in Iraq?— Alex Burns (@alexburnsNYT) September 8, 2016
But the most ferocious complaints against Lauer came from Clinton supporters and liberals who were amazed that Lauer failed to contradict Trump when the Republican candidate brazenly lied about opposing the Iraq War. (Trump supported the war, and has simply and persistently lied about his record throughout the campaign.)
Lauer follows up by completely ignoring Trump lying about opposing the Iraq war from the beginning— Judd Legum (@JuddLegum) September 8, 2016
US media's failure to hold Trump to account in 2016 now almost on a par with US media's failure to hold Bush to account on Iraq/WMDs in 2003— Mehdi Hasan (@mehdirhasan) September 8, 2016
TRUMP ADVOCATED FOR QUICK WITHDRAWAL OUT OF IRAQ. MATT LAUER, PLEASE POINT THIS OUT.— igorvolsky (@igorvolsky) September 8, 2016
Sure Trump is lying about the Iraq War up, but at least he didn't use a private server. Eh, Lauer?— Jamelle Bouie (@jbouie) September 8, 2016
Two of Trump's biggest critiques of Clinton are Iraq and Libya, both of which he supported.— Christopher Hayes (@chrislhayes) September 8, 2016
Seriously -- everyone, and I mean everyone, knew this would happen. And Matt Lauer didn't have a followup planned? https://t.co/mm5ufZKjEx— Paul Krugman (@paulkrugman) September 8, 2016
You can’t just let Trump tell obvious, widely-debunked lies in interviews https://t.co/I1bnTbMN3i— Matthew Yglesias (@mattyglesias) September 8, 2016
Trump lies about opposing Iraq war. Lauer lets it go. No follow up. Unreal.— Jonathan Chait (@jonathanchait) September 8, 2016
OK great @Mlauer call, quoting a Trump tweet about how rape is the natural consequence of having women in the military. No followup— Joan Walsh (@joanwalsh) September 8, 2016
As Vox’s Matt Yglesias explains, the criticisms reflect a real frustration over Trump’s ability to run roughshod over facts and his own record. What’s even more fascinating is NBC News’ own team of political reporters were on hand to do a live fact-check of the event.
Lauer’s review shows just how difficult of a job lies ahead for the moderator of the first presidential debate on September 26.