25 September 1998
Smile-a-while II: Lauer restored
Synopsis: Friday morning, Matt Lauer was still lambasting those mixed-up American people. Would you believe it--Bob Dole cheered him up!
Commentary by Matt Lauer, Bob Dole
The Today Show, NBC, 9/25/98
Poor troubled Matt Lauer was still blasting the public this Friday morning on The Today Show. And who provided the tonic to lighten Matts spirit? We couldnt believe it, but--Bob Dole did!
The once-dour Dole had been booked on the show to promote his new text on political humor. But Lauer continued his belly-aching remarks about the publics piss-poor judgment:
LAUER: You mentioned the American people. How does it make you feel, and what take do you get on the American people, when you hear a poll that says more than 70% of those people feel the president, this president, has low moral values, but over 60% of the people think he has what it takes to be president?
Youll have to trust us--it was abundantly clear, from Lauers aggrieved tone of voice, that he thought he was reporting a strange thing indeed.
For the sake of argument, lets assume that Lauer is correctly paraphrasing data from some poll or other. Were left again with the problem we saw in his Tuesday talk with Tim Russert (see Our current howler, 9/25/98). If 70% think Clinton has low moral values; and 60% think Clinton still should be president; then as few as 30% of the people polled may actually hold boththese views. The contradiction Lauer perceives here is not held by the American people, as Lauer implies; it is held by a fairly small minority.
Bob Dole, once the reigning grand duke of doom, now tried to cheer poor Matt up:
DOLE: ...I think the American people have great faith in the office, they respect the office, the White House is sort of a shrine, and I think Clinton hasdone a pretty good job. So you add all that up, the economys good, were at peace around the world, so I can see why youd have this high mark here and low marks there...[Doles emphasis]
Can you believe it? The dark soul once parodied as old Dr. Doom was trying to cheer up Matt Lauer! But, like Achilles mourning the loss of beloved Patroclus, Lauer would not be consoled:
LAUER: But why should people separate morals from a quality thats needed to lead the country?
DOLE: I think that its a fine distinction. And I wouldnt rely too much on polls...
Well be less polite than Sen. Dole--and yes, we know you hate it when we get like this--but Lauers question to Dole represented a sand-box level of political analysis that has no place at the top of our news chain. As we have said, we are talking here about a minorityof people who hold the two views that Lauer finds incongruous. Nowhere in his discussion with Dole, or in his discussion with Russert on Tuesday, did Lauer show any sign of understanding that fact. But beyond this, it is absurd to say that the data he cites means that even those people have separated morals from a quality thats needed to lead the country. As Dole indicated in his sensible remarks, there are other things that people reasonably consider in deciding who should, on balance, be president. It is not at all clear that the people Lauer criticizes have decided that morals somehow dont count at all. Nothing in Lauers data says that; its a leap Lauer makes on his own. Wed guess that many of these people disapprove of Clintons sexual conduct, but feel that, on balance, other things count more. It is hard to believe that a fully grown man in Lauers position doesnt understand that people make decisions in which they weigh various factors. But there he was, at the head of the news chain, offering this simplistic account--an account in which he attributed views to the American people that have been demonstrated by no current polls.
We ask again what weve asked before--is this remarkably unsophisticated level of analysis really the best we can expect at the top of the news chain? No data that Lauer cited--none at all-- supported the conclusion he drew with Dole. Yet, he continued to present a view of what the American people are thinking that we often see presented, by various pundits. Its a view that is completely unfounded; and it keeps us from trying to draw more accurate conclusions about what various segments of the public may reallythink.
Can we tell you something? When we turn on The Today Showearly each morning, were always amazed by the crews preparation. Theyre chipper, and the clothes they wear always look great. Theres seldom a hair out of place.
We know you that hate it when we say things like this, but is it even possible that similar attention might be paid to more significant factors in the crews preparation? Todayviewers were treated this week to a riot of illogic and faulty deduction--a steady succession of faulty conclusions, drawn from very limited data. It happened all week, and were sure it will continue. Is this really the best we can do?
Postscript: Please dont make us go back and research this matter. But the overlap problem Russert and Lauer fell into this week was widely discussed in the course of the past year. That is: if 60% think that Clintons a bad guy; and 60% think Clinton should still be the president; it almost surely isnt the same60% that are holding these (potentially) divergent views. This factor has been discussed again and again, but theres no sign that theyve heard it around The Today Show.This is one of the simplest elements of analysis that a poll-watcher should master. So why is this absurdly simple element of analysis so foreign around 30 Rock?