The network staged the festivities in the Intrepid Air, Sea and Space Museum to see whether Matt Lauer would have enough air and space to stick it to two political sharks as intrepidly as he once stuck it to the fake predators in Sharknado 2.
MSNBC seemed to have forgotten that Lauer was quite literally eaten alive in the third episode of the Sharknado franchise. It was his recent star turn in "grilling" bad boy Ryan Lochte during the Rio Olympics that probably made them think that he could also hold two much more powerful and seasoned storytellers to account.
Lauer challenged Lochte's story about getting robbed at gunpoint, so isn't it logical that he'd also challenge Hillary Clinton's promise not to send ground troops to Iraq and Syria by pointing out that there are already hundreds, if not thousands, of boots on the ground in Iraq and Syria? Who would have thought he'd give Donald Trump a pass over his "secret plan" to defeat Isis? And Lauer unbelievably didn't seem to know that Trump had told shock jock Howard Stern he supported the Iraq War way back when.
Lauer delivered his scripted questions with all the annoying gravitas that he could muster. But those real sharks sure can get slippery, even when they look fake and sound fake.
Don't blame Lauer, a $28 million-a-year media personality, for not being a real journalist and for treating a presidential election like just another game. Blame his greedy bosses and Wall Street investors and advertisers for making it a spectator sport in the first place and for caring more about ratings and profits than they do about informing the public.
Broadcasting in the public interest has largely gone the way of the rotary phone. People who can still afford cable have neither the time nor the attention spans to devote to mulling over public policy. In any case, there is no longer much of "the public" in neoliberal policies decided by market-based technocrats and military contractors.
It should come as no surprise that the corporate media-political complex has to make the presidential contest into a reality show to attract our limited attentions and to sell us lots of products. We're consumers, not citizens.
So first, they put on a contrived show with the ostensible purpose of honoring the troops. They invited a few carefully selected, attractive, articulate, not obviously maimed or damaged military veterans to pose questions to Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton. (No Howard Stern trolls were there to spoil things, thank goodness.) The candidates mouthed their platitudes in carefully truncated soundbites, and the viewing audience was urged to feel appropriately guilty about how little we think about the troops and how patriotic we ought to feel.
Next, the candidates tried to instill fear in the viewing audience by pointing out what a violent mess the world is in, and what a violent mess their opponent is. The camera panned to the scowling generals in the audience to further instill the terror and the respect in our hearts and our minds. Or, so the Masters of the Universe are hoping.
Third, Matt Lauer made it all about his vapid self with his frequent outbursts of rudeness and vapidity. He was designed to make us circle the wagons around our favored candidate. And better yet, to pick a side in case we were still undecided or disgusted with both of them.
Finally, the rest of the mass media is fulfilling its own assigned role by making the presidential town hall all about Matt Lauer's horrible acting skills and his basic ignorance, arrogance and ineptitude. The common complaint is that he bullied Hillary over her emails, and gave Donnie a pass. Thus the show fulfilled its useful idiotic purpose of adding more fuel to the Defense of Hillary (DOH) fire. It deflected attention from war for war's sake, to the alleged sexist war on Hillary.
Lauer is being castigated both for being too much of a shark and for acting like a guppy.
For example, here was Michael Grynbaum's front page New York Times review:
Nobody in the mainstream media is questioning this country's pathological addiction to trillion-dollar wars, illegal coups, and drone assassinations, or why and how the Pentagon and the CIA and Homeland Security and the NSA have all become so unaccountable in the first place. They're ignoring the awful reality that the Deep State is now our all-powerful fourth branch of government.Charged with overseeing a live prime-time forum with Donald J. Trump and Hillary Clinton — widely seen as a dry run of sorts for the coming presidential debates — Mr. Lauer found himself besieged on Wednesday evening by critics of all political stripes, who accused the anchor of unfairness, sloppiness and even sexism in his handling of the event.Granted 30 minutes with each candidate, who appeared back-to-back at the Intrepid Sea, Air & Space Museum in Manhattan, Mr. Lauer devoted about a third of his time with Mrs. Clinton to questions about her use of a private email server, then seemed to rush through subsequent queries about weighty topics like domestic terror attacks.When an Army veteran in the audience asked Mrs. Clinton to describe her plan to defeat the Islamic State, Mr. Lauer interjected before the candidate could begin her reply.“As briefly as you can,” he said, one of several moments where the anchor spoke over Mrs. Clinton to remind her that their time was running short.
Once upon a time, that honor and duty was reserved for our vaunted free press, a/k/a the intrepid Fourth Estate.