On Last Night’s “Commander-in-Chief” Forum

A frightening case study in journalistic failure. Photo: Justin Sullivan

A frightening case study in journalistic failure. Photo: Justin Sullivan

Good notes this morning on last night’s Commander-in-Chief Forum.  The media figures from whom many or most people take their views of the world are creating a world in which things that are not comparable are made to appear comparable.

First, from Jonathan Chait:

Matt Lauer’s Pathetic Interview of Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump Is the Scariest Thing I’ve Seen in This Campaign

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. I not only consume a lot of news, since it’s my job, I also tend to focus on elite print-news sources. Most voters, and all the more so undecided voters, subsist on a news diet supplied by the likes of Matt Lauer. And the reality transmitted to them from Lauer matches the reality of the polls, which is a world in which Clinton and Trump are equivalently flawed.

Lauer focused a third of his questioning time on Clinton’s private email server….

…The impression an uninformed or even moderately informed viewer would receive from this interview is that the email issue represents a sinister crime, perhaps completely disqualifying from office, rather than an unjustifiable but routine act of government non-transparency.

The email exchange would not by itself be so alarming except when viewed in juxtaposition with Lauer’s hapless interview of Trump. Trump began the interview by boldly insisting, “I was totally against the war in Iraq. You can look at Esquire magazine from 2004. You can look at before that.” This is a lie. Trump has been quoted supporting the invasion beforehand and even afterward. …

Trump went on to make a series of wild and dangerous statements. He praised Russian President Vladimir Putin as a strong, effective, and popular leader. Lauer did press him on this point, and when he did, Trump offered the astonishing rebuttal, saying President Obama had done equivalently brutish things. Lauer did not press Trump on his claim that the president of the United States behaves in a fundamentally similar way to a dictator who imprisons and kills political critics and journalists. Trump likewise reiterated his belief that “to the victor go the spoils” is the proper basis for American foreign policy, specifically with regard to his long-standing lament that the United States failed to steal Iraq’s oil after the 2003 invasion.

Both of these beliefs stun and appall foreign-policy experts in both parties, as readers of the Washington Post or the New York Times know. But the average undecided voter isn’t reading those newspapers. The average undecided voter is getting snippets of news from television personalities like Lauer, who are failing to convey the fact that the election pits a normal politician with normal political failings against an ignorant, bigoted, pathologically dishonest authoritarian.

And second, from James Fallows:

Trump Time Capsule #96: ‘Putin Has an 82 Percent Approval Rating!’

I’ve just now watched the hour-long “Commander-in-Chief Forum” on NBC, moderated by Matt Lauer. Three points that deserve note for the record:

1. Iraq. Donald Trump led off by claiming, falsely, that he opposed the war in Iraq before it began, and that this is an important sign of his good judgment:

<read details in the original>

2. Russia. The exchange between Lauer and Trump about Vladimir Putin seemed even more jaw-dropping when seen on TV than it reads in print.

…<quotations from the interview>…

What is unprecedented here: a presidential nominee favorably comparing the autocratic leader of an increasingly aggressive and problematic power to the current commander in chief of the United States. Here’s why I’m acutely aware that this sort of thing just is not done:

<read more details in the original>

3. Intelligence briefings. Remember the concern, when Donald Trump began getting classified briefings, that he would blurt out or misuse information he heard there?

How do his briefers feel after hearing this?

<again, details in the original, in which DT either betrays the confidentiality of the briefing or lies about what he was told>

UPDATE: 9/8: More on the unprecedented inappropriateness of Trump’s use of the classified Intelligence Briefings here.