The first joint appearance of presidential nominees Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump on NBC's "Commander in Chief Forum" drew strong ratings, averaging 14.7 million viewers on Wednesday.
But the reviews for the performance by moderator Matt Lauer, co-anchor of "Today," during and after the event held at the Intrepid Sea, Air & Space Museum in New York, have been less than stellar.
Lauer received harsh feedback — most of it from media critics and supporters of Clinton, the Democratic nominee — after he failed to press Trump on his insistence that he was opposed to the Iraq war. Clinton had earlier mentioned a 2002 radio interview with Howard Stern in which Trump said he favored the U.S. invasion. But the Republican nominee maintained Wednesday night that he was opposed to it, with no follow-up from Lauer.
Lauer also received blowback for interrupting Clinton, who attempted to provide longer and more detailed answers during her portion of the forum. Each candidate was given half an hour, and Clinton spent nearly half of her time discussing the controversy over her emails.
Former Obama White House speechwriter Jon Favreau wrote: "I don't blame Lauer for asking the email question. But it's ABSURD that he started off with Trump, 'Why should you be commander in chief?'"
New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof wrote on Twitter that the forum was "an embarrassment to journalism." (Kristof is a friend of former "Today" co-anchor Ann Curry, who had an uneasy on-air rapport with Lauer.)
Other commenters also said Lauer went easier on Trump.
"If Matt Lauer were a dog, he'd bark at women and rollover for white men," tweeted Warren Leight, former producer of NBC's "Law & Order: SVU."
Lauer, one of the most durably popular figures in network TV news, is rarely subjected to the kind of notices he received for the forum. At one point the hashtag #LaueringTheBar was trending on Twitter.
The forum featured questions on national security, military affairs and veterans' issues issues, including several from an audience of active service members.
An NBC News representative had no comment on the criticisms leveled at Lauer.
In a report on Thursday's "Today" program, correspondent Peter Alexander said Trump "falsely presented his position" on the Iraq war during the forum and played an audio clip of the candidate stating his support.
But the only reference on "Today" to the negative reaction to Lauer's moderating came during an interview with comedian Dana Carvey.
Impersonating Russian President Vladimir Putin, Carvey said Lauer did a good job.
"You have a fan," Carvey said.
Lauer laughed and held up his index finger. "One," he said.
12:40 p.m.: This story has been updated with additional Nielsen data.