Column: NBC host appeared biased during forum with Trump and Clinton

Matt Lauer’s top priority in both interviews should have been accountability instead of meeting a question quota.

NBC News anchor Matt Lauer made several mistakes when he moderated last Wednesday’s commander-in-chief forum, a discussion with the two major-party presidential nominees about foreign policy. Since then, he has faced a lot of criticism. During his half-hour interviews with each candidate, Lauer grilled Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton about her ongoing email controversy, but he didn’t fact-check or push for specific answers from Republican nominee Donald Trump.

The two interviews were of roughly equal length, but though Lauer asked Trump 21 questions, he only asked Clinton 14 (not including the questions both candidates received from the audience).

Early in Clinton’s interview, Lauer asked Clinton why her use of a personal email server to communicate about classified information didn’t disqualify her from being commander-in-chief of the U.S. military. In addition, he started reciting facts from the FBI investigation of her use of the server. It makes sense to consider how Clinton’s past decisions could affect her future ones, but the email controversy did not deserve nearly the amount of attention Lauer devoted to it. If Lauer hadn’t spent so much time rehashing information the public already knows, prompting Clinton to defend her behavior for the umpteenth time, he would have been able to ask her more questions.

Toward the end of the interview, he repeatedly asked her to be brief with her answers and even cut her off a couple times. Not once did Lauer do those things to Trump.

It’s likely Lauer’s biggest concern during Trump’s interview was making sure he didn’t run out of time like he did with Clinton. In order to ask as many questions as possible, Lauer didn’t ask Trump to elaborate or give specific answers when Trump spoke in vague generalities. Lauer asked Trump what he would do to end sexual assault in the military, citing a Trump tweet from 2013 in which he blamed the problem on the integration of women into the military. Trump didn’t name a single thing he would do to fix it, and Lauer didn’t press the issue. He also didn’t press Trump on his knowledge about the Islamic State, his mental health care plan for veterans, the research Trump says he’s doing in preparation for possibly becoming president or his past experiences that have prepared him to become commander-in-chief.

One of Lauer’s biggest mistakes was failing to correct Trump when he said he had been against the Iraq War. As Clinton accurately mentioned during her segment, Trump supported it. By not calling Trump out on his blatant lie, Lauer showed a lack of journalistic integrity. The criticism he has received for this has been entirely justified, and his credibility as a reporter should take a huge hit.

Whether or not it was intentional, Lauer appeared to be biased in Trump’s favor. His top priority should have been accountability instead of meeting a question quota, and he clearly focused on the former with Clinton and the latter with Trump. From a journalistic standpoint, it wasn’t fair for Lauer to take two vastly different approaches to two interviews about the same topic. Hopefully the moderators of the three upcoming debates between Trump and Clinton noticed the problems with Lauer’s performance and will do a better job.

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