Interviewing Bush: Lauer’s Lowlights

NBC star Matt Lauer’s one-on-one interview with George W. Bush revealed very little in the way of information, though some lessons could be drawn from Lauer’s mediocre performance. Here was one comment from near the top of the interview:

The Florida recount. Hanging chads. A divided Supreme Court. George Bush had a rough road to the White House.

Bush lost the popular vote in 2000 by half a million. By many reasonable standards, he should have lost the Florida recount too. The Supreme Court made him the president. I’m not sure “rough” is the right way to describe what happened to him.

And then there was this passage on the Iraq War:

LAUER: He says he eventually decided to go to war based on Saddam Hussein’s defiance–and what seemed to be rock-solid intelligence. [To Bush:] On the subject of WMD, George Tenet famously said, “It’s a slam dunk.”

BUSH: Yes. The intelligence.

LAUER: The intelligence is. So by the time you gave the order to start military operations in Iraq, did you personally have any doubt, any shred of doubt, about that intelligence?

BUSH: No, I didn’t. I really didn’t.

LAUER: Not everybody thought you should go to war, though. There were dissenters.

BUSH: Of course there were.

LAUER: Did you filter them out?

BUSH: I was–I was a dissenting voice. I didn’t wanna use force.

Saddam Hussein’s “defiance” of… what, exactly? The U.N. weapons inspections were underway (and were finding little to support U.S. claims about Iraq’s WMD programs). The U.S. failed to win Security Council approval for the military strikes and invasion, but went forward nonetheless.

The problem isn’t merely that Lauer did so little to push back against Bush’s version of history– in this case, he provided it. If Lauer is going to bring up the fact that there were “dissenters”–Bush’s absurd claim that he was one surely deserved some response–he should have pointed out that some of that dissent came early, from people who believed the “slam dunk” intelligence on Iraq’s weapons wasn’t a slam dunk at all. But then you’d be pointing out that one of the favorite media tropes about the Iraq War–that “everyone got it wrong”–is false. And the kind of journalist who would do that is the kind of journalist who wouldn’t win an exclusive interview with George W. Bush.

About Peter Hart

Activism Director and and Co-producer of CounterSpinPeter Hart is the activism director at FAIR. He writes for FAIR's magazine Extra! and is also a co-host and producer of FAIR's syndicated radio show CounterSpin. He is the author of The Oh Really? Factor: Unspinning Fox News Channel's Bill O'Reilly (Seven Stories Press, 2003). Hart has been interviewed by a number of media outlets, including NBC Nightly News, Fox News Channel's O'Reilly Factor, the Los Angeles Times, Newsday and the Associated Press. He has also appeared on Showtime and in the movie Outfoxed. Follow Peter on Twitter at @peterfhart.