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Can Social Media Pushback Effectively Counter Journalistic Malpractice?

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As Paul observed below, in his half an hour of tossing 20-mile-an-hour softballs at Donald Trump that notably contrasted with his treatment of Hillary Clinton’s HIGHLY TROUBLING emails Matt Lauer showed that he is to journalism what Southern Comfort is to bourbon. At least his ineptitude is being noted fairly widely:

It was 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 consensus afterward was not kind.

Charged with overseeing a live prime-time forum with Donald J. Trump and Hillary Clinton — widely seen as a dry run of sorts for the coming presidential debates — Mr. Lauer found himself besieged on Wednesday evening by critics of all political stripes, who accused the anchor of unfairness, sloppiness and even sexism in his handling of the event.

Granted 30 minutes with each candidate, who appeared back-to-back at the Intrepid Sea, Air & Space Museum in Manhattan, Mr. Lauer devoted about a third of his time with Mrs. Clinton to questions about her use of a private email server, then seemed to rush through subsequent queries about weighty topics like domestic terror attacks.

When an Army veteran in the audience asked Mrs. Clinton to describe her plan to defeat the Islamic State, Mr. Lauer interjected before the candidate could begin her reply.

“As briefly as you can,” he said, one of several moments where the anchor spoke over Mrs. Clinton to remind her that their time was running short.

Mr. Trump stormed onstage in his familiar motor-mouth style, often talking over Mr. Lauer and declining to directly answer many of his questions. At times, Mr. Lauer — who has conducted fewer adversarial interviews with Mr. Trump than his colleagues on NBC’s political desk — appeared flummoxed by his subject’s linguistic feints.

Drawing particular ire was the moment when Mr. Trump asserted, with his usual confidence: “I was totally against the war in Iraq.”

In fact, Mr. Trump initially said he supported the war, a point that Mrs. Clinton had raised earlier in the evening, citing an interview that Mr. Trump had given to Howard Stern. But Mr. Lauer left the assertion unchallenged, zipping along to his next question about Mr. Trump’s professed tendency to “say things that you later regret.”

Journalists and longtime political observers pounced. “How in the hell does Lauer not factcheck Trump lying about Iraq? This is embarrassingly bad,” wrote Tommy Vietor, a former aide to President Obama. Glenn Kessler, the chief fact checker at The Washington Post, posted a link to NBC’s check of Mr. Trump’s claim and wrote: “@MLauer should have been prepared to do this.”

“Lauer interrupted Clinton’s answers repeatedly to move on. Not once for Trump,” Norman Ornstein, the political commentator, wrote in a Twitter message, adding: “Tough to be a woman running for president.”

When the media relentlessly and often dishonestly went after Gore in 2000 — which Krugman noted recently — the contemporary social media insfrastructure was not on place, meaning much less opportunity to push back against Connolly, Seeyle, Dowd, Rich et al. Another difference is that while we can argue about whether the coverage of Trump has been commensurate to his sheer level of corruption and unpreparedness, the media generally hasn’t rolled over for Trump they way they did for Bush; Lauer has been more the exception. At worst, the narrative of 2016 will be Both Sides Do It. Which is outrageous in itself, but probably not as damaging as Only Al Gore Does It in 2000.

…and even more brutal Times review of Lauer, which is vaguely encouraging:

The NBC presidential forum on Wednesday night in Manhattan brought together the candidates Hillary Clinton and Donald J. Trump to try to determine who has the strength, preparation and presence of mind to lead during a time of crisis.

It sure wasn’t Matt Lauer.

In an event aboard the decommissioned aircraft carrier Intrepid, the “Today” host was lost at sea. Seemingly unprepared on military and foreign policy specifics, he performed like a soldier sent on a mission without ammunition, beginning with a disorganized offensive, ending in a humiliating retreat.

[…]

Like Mrs. Clinton, Mr. Trump has had a few controversies related to the military. You might recall him feuding with a Gold Star family, or mocking Senator John McCain for being captured in Vietnam, or likening his prep-school attendance to military experience.

Mr. Lauer evidently didn’t recall any of that. He kicked off by asking Mr. Trump what in his life had prepared him to be president, the kind of whiffle ball job-interview question you ask the boss’s nephew you know you have to hire anyway.

Mr. Lauer did press the Republican candidate on his claims of a “secret plan” to defeat the Islamic State and his repeated praise of Vladimir V. Putin, the president of Russia, leading Mr. Trump to cite the Russian authoritarian’s poll numbers and compare him favorably with President Obama.

In general, though, Mr. Lauer’s questioning of Mr. Trump was like watching one student quiz another to prep for a test neither had done the reading for. The host asked soft open-ended questions that invited the candidate to answer with word clouds.

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