You have to call the guy a liar

Apparently the news media are determined to help Trump win.

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.

I’m not familiar with Matt Lauer. Apparently he’s on one of those morning tv chatter shows. Why get someone like that to interview candidates for president? Shouldn’t it be a journalist, or even an academic, rather than a chat show host?

Mr. Lauer interviewed the candidates in turn for a half-hour each. He began by asking Mrs. Clinton to defend her use of a private email server as Secretary of State. And asking again. And again.

Roughly a third of his questioning dealt with the emails — a matter certainly connected to national security, but also a staple issue of this year’s campaign-trail reporting. It suggested, as the rest of the forum confirmed, that Mr. Lauer was steadiest handling issues familiar to anyone with a passing knowledge of the morning politics headlines.

That emphasis left relatively little time for the forum’s foreign-policy and military subjects. Mr. Lauer and the audience asked about complex topics — the Middle East, terrorism, veterans’ affairs — and Mr. Lauer pressed for simple answers. “As briefly as you can,” he injected when an audience member asked how Mrs. Clinton would decide whether to deploy troops against the Islamic State.

That’s infuriating. The email issue isn’t that important and wasn’t really her fault to begin with, and it’s been covered endlessly. Trump on the other hand is an actual crook and fraud, and a liar and bully, and a cheat and a thief – and that hasn’t been covered anywhere near enough. But apparently the talk show host spent so much time on the email non-issue that he didn’t leave Clinton enough time to talk about the substance.

There’s a difference between an interviewer who has questions and one who has knowledge, and Mr. Lauer illustrated it. He seemed to be plowing through a checklist, not listening in the moment in a way that led to productive follow-ups. Short on time, he repeatedly interrupted Mrs. Clinton in a way he didn’t with Mr. Trump. (“Let me finish,” she protested at one point.)

He interrupted her but not Trump. Unbelievable.

Does this country know how to tie its own god damn shoes? Are determined to sleepwalk into fascism just for the fun of it?

Candidates should expect to be challenged. They’re applying for a challenging job. But where Mr. Lauer treated Mrs. Clinton like someone running for president, he treated Mr. Trump like someone running to figure out how to be president, eventually.

That interview was the apotheosis of this presidential campaign’s forced marriage of entertainment and news. The host of NBC’s morning show interviewed the former star of its reality show “The Apprentice,” and the whole thing played out as farce.

Why? Why? Why? Why are we doing it this way? What next – the hosts of America’s Got Talent?

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.

Mr. Lauer prefaced one question by saying that “nobody would expect you” to have read deeply into foreign policy before running for president. He asked Mr. Trump if he would be “prepared on Day 1,” a yes-or-no question that will elicit only one answer from any candidate not about to drop out.

Yeah good point – don’t worry about foreign policy, Donny! Plenty of time to study up on that when you’re sitting on the White House toilet.

Mr. Lauer, fortunately, is not going to moderate a presidential debate. But Fox News’s Chris Wallace is, and he recently said that he does not consider it his job to truth-squad candidates as a moderator. Let’s not mistake who this helps most: the fact-checking website PolitiFact has found far more false statements from Mr. Trump than from Mrs. Clinton.

Why would a journalist be allergic to verifying the truth? On an MSNBC panel, Chris Matthews guessed that Mr. Lauer didn’t correct Mr. Trump on Iraq because of perceptions. “You have to call the guy a liar when you do that,” he said. “That’s the difficult thing for a Matt Lauer to do, because it sounds like an opinion.”

But it’s not. When a candidate says he didn’t say something that he did, that’s a matter of fact. Here’s what an opinion looks like: It’s a travesty to be steamrolled by a candidate because you’re worried that doing your job will look bad.

To put it in military terms, weakness is an invitation to attack. Going into the debates, what we saw at NBC’s forum should make you very, very worried about our first line of defense.

I guess they want a fascist. A lying, thieving, cheating, racist, misogynist fascist – what could possibly go wrong?

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