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Veterans Forum Staged With Show Biz In Mind

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The Commander-in-Chief Forum, with Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump, was televised Wednesday night. The Iraq Afghanistan Veterans of America, a veterans organization based in New York City, joined NBC and MSNBC in hosting the event.

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Billed as a precursor to three presidential debates and one vice-presidential debate, starting September 25, the Forum was described by The New York Times as "a high-stakes political moment, far from the chummier confines of the 'Today' show and, for Matt Lauer, NBC's stalwart of the morning, a chance to prove his broadcasting mettle on the presidential stage."

The Times adds, "The consensus afterward was not kind." Among the harsher criticism of Lauer came from New York magazine's Jonathan Chait, whose evisceration of Lauer's performance was entitled, "Matt Lauer's Pathetic Interview of Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump Is the Scariest Thing I've Seen in This Campaign."

Chait explained what scared him about the Forum:

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"I had not taken seriously the possibility that Donald Trump could win the presidency until I saw Matt Lauer host an hour-long interview with the two major-party candidates. Lauer's performance was not merely a failure, it was horrifying and shocking. The shock, for me, was the realization that most Americans inhabit a very different news environment than professional journalists... Most voters, and all the more so undecided voters, subsist on a news diet supplied by the likes of Matt Lauer."

Jonathan Chait is right to be scared. We should all be scared at the prospect that Donald J. Trump might actually be elected president of the United States.

But don't blame Lauer for not digging deeper into this danger.

Complaints about Matt Lauer miss the point. The Forum was not a news event. It was a staged television performance put on by NBC, utilizing an audience of veterans on a set built at the Intrepid Sea, Air and Space museum aboard the decommissioned aircraft carrier Intrepid.

Lauer has co-hosted NBC's morning Today Show since June, 1997, a span of 19 years entertaining America with feature stories, interviews with star entertainers and news stories.

NBC has an impressive team of news anchors and reporters who might have served as moderator of the Forum on the deck of the Intrepid Wednesday night. But Lauer has a morning audience and he is an NBC star.

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What he did with Clinton and Trump was to interview them as the stars they have become, catching them off guard when possible.

Lauer has his share of news coverage experience but he was hardly the best interviewer to probe the candidates on ISIS, the Middle East, veterans' health care, and the rising tensions around the world, all issues that affect the military and veterans.

The Forum was billed on the Iraq Afghanistan Veterans of America website as an program where the candidates would answer questions from veterans in the audience.

Lauer did not even get into foreign affairs for the first 12 minutes of his opening 30 minutes with Clinton. Instead, no doubt with the blessing of his bosses, he rehashed the email "controversy" which NBC thought would interest its viewers.

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James Wall served as a Contributing Editor of The Christian Century magazine, based in Chicago, Illinois, from 1999 through 2017. From 1972 through 1999, he was editor and publisher of the Christian Century magazine. Many sources have influenced (more...)
 

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