Matt Lauer: Editgate Segment 'Sloppy,' 'Not Acceptable'

Matt Lauer: Editgate Segment 'Sloppy,' 'Not Acceptable'

So what if “the most powerful face in news,” Matt Lauer, was steering widely-viewed “TODAY” show coverage when it racially inflamed a nation by using a manipulatively edited recording of George Zimmerman in the Trayvon Martin shooting incident? 

He looks good reading from a teleprompter and would never air something like an “ogling piece” featuring images of Lara Flynn Boyle’s bad plastic surgery. That would be irresponsible and beneath him, one must suppose.

Matt Lauer on His 36-Hour ‘Today’ Negotiation, Ann Curry and NBC’s Trayvon Martin Mistake

The most powerful face in news….

Lauer isn’t the managing editor (a title that generally comes with the evening news job), but he actively helps steer the broadcast. Lauer admits that the tabloid turn of the media in general has been challenging, even though Today can be as guilty as any other news outlet (Today and MSNBC came under fire for an exclusive interview with Michael Jackson’s personal physician Conrad Murray days before his manslaughter conviction that was part of a package deal with a U.K. production company). “Sometimes you feel like you’re losing ground because other people are reporting this stuff,” he says. But there are other stories easy to nix: an ogling piece about Lara Flynn Boyle’s disastrous plastic surgery is a recent example. “This is not what we do. When it’s something that absolutely strikes me as wrong, we kill it.”

But mistakes still occur: A misleadingly edited Trayvon Martin 911 call on the March 27 broadcast of Today put NBC News on the defensive. The network apologized, then fired the producer responsible for editing the piece, which was reported by correspondent Ron Allen. “It’s not acceptable,” says Lauer. “It was sloppy, and it was wrong.”

Yes, mistakes will occur — such as ABC making the false claim that Zimmerman had no injuries that night or CNN hearing the word “Coon,” only to reverse itself later, suggesting the word Zimmerman uttered was “cold.” But in a news world apparently driven more by Q ratings than IQ points, Lauer’s past interviews prove he has “hard news chops.”

Lauer, who describes himself as “the most obnoxious creature of habit,” placed a call to NBCUniversal CEO Steve Burke on April 4 to let him know he had decided to stay. “That set in motion a pretty intense number of hours,” recalls NBC News president Steve Capus. Lauer’s longtime agent Ken Lindner immediately began hammering out a contract with the company’s business affairs executives. Thirty-six hours later, the deal was done. “The only question was whether he wanted to continue to do the job and everything that it demands. That’s all that had to be decided,” says Capus, who adds that there was no haggling and very little negotiation at all. “His is a unique situation. We mutually agreed to something awfully fast.”

How can one hold Matt Lauer, or NBC News President Steve Capus, accountable? They have multi-million dollar, multi-year deals to negotiate. Perhaps that was the problem with their reporting on the Trayvon Martin shooting. All of NBC’s news division was busy getting Lauer’s contract just right so he could continue to guide the narrative for NBC’s “sloppy” coverage that was “not acceptable,” according to him.

But who did pay the price for such alleged sloppiness? NBC News not only doesn’t want his name to be news, but no one at “TODAY” paid the price for what Lauer now claims was “not acceptable.” Unfortunately, it was then considered acceptable because it fit the narrative NBC, ABC, CNN and other networks sought to craft with weak, if not deliberately misleading, news coverage, day in and day out. 

Just don’t attempt to get any of those networks to make that the major story it should be. They’d all probably prefer bad plastic surgery pictures of Lara Flynn Boyle before they did something as revealing and honest as genuinely reporting on that.