NBC News Chairman Andy Lack is standing up for Matt Lauer after the “Today” co-anchor was torched for his moderating skills at Wednesday’s “Commander In Chief Forum.”
Lack issued an internal memo to staffers late Friday congratulating them on the news division’s one-hour special, in which presidential nominees Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump answered questions regarding national security and defense issues.
“Because of our event, national security has dominated the news cycle for days,” Lack wrote. “Every major paper and news broadcast around the world has led with headlines about Putin, Iraq, ISIS, and intelligence briefings. Matt did a tremendous job – driving one of the most serious discussions to date on these topics. Nearly 15 million people watched the event, and over 26 million tuned in at some point during the hour.”
The memo, which was shared with reporters, is NBC’s first public comment on Lauer’s performance as moderator, which generated scorn on social media, CNN and Friday’s editorial page of the New York Times. Most of the criticism has been over Lauer’s handling of Trump, the Republican nominee.
Lauer allowed Trump’s false claim that he opposed the U.S. invasion of Iraq to go unchallenged, while lingering on the issue of Clinton’s handling of email during the Democratic nominee’s tenure as secretary of State.
“Mr. Lauer largely neglected to ask penetrating questions, call out falsehoods or insist on answers when it was obvious that Mr. Trump’s responses had drifted off,” the New York Times wrote.
The Times suggested that Lauer was not up to his task and said moderators of the upcoming presidential debates will need to be “fully prepared to challenge the candidates, so voters can have a clear picture on how they will lead.”
NBC News executives speaking on the condition of anonymity said that while Lauer’s performance was far from perfect, the negative reaction from various quarters has been overly harsh, prompting Lack to put out a statement of support.
Lack and Lauer are longtime allies. Lack was in his first tenure as president of NBC News when Lauer began his stint as co-anchor on “Today” in 1997. Lack rejoined NBC News as its chairman in 2015, after leading it from 1993 to 2001.