Matt Lauer Scolds: Don't Question Michelle Obama's Patriotism

Matt Lauer, NBC On Tuesday's “Today” show, co-host Matt Lauer practically dared John McCain spokesperson Nicole Wallace to challenge the narrative created by Michelle Obama in her speech during the previous night of the Democratic National Convention. Lauer cited Mrs. Obama's goal as trying to “put to rest some of the stories that have been going around, and a lot of them being talked about on conservative talk radio, about her lack of patriotism.”

The NBC host then challenged Ms. Wallace, “So, let me ask you on the record, how she did, and does the McCain campaign doubt her love of country?” Of course, Lauer offered no specifics as to what he meant by “some of the stories that have been going around,” nor did he mention the now famous quote of Michelle Obama asserting that “for the first time in my adult life I am proud of my country,” thus making it sound as though conservatives were just making things up about the candidate's wife.

In contrast, in an earlier segment, reporter David Gregory did play that clip. Just prior, however, he lauded Mrs. Obama's speech as “a moving description of her middle-class roots as the daughter of a Chicago city worker” and labeled it “a rebuttal, an attempt to quiet critics who seized on comments she made earlier in the year to question her patriotism.” To put it mildly, Gregory described the speech on Monday as containing a “different tone” from previous statements.  

He also insultingly touted another goal of the address by saying, “She [Mrs. Obama] took center stage, hoping to open minds and ease doubts about her husband.” So, those that have doubts about the senator also possess closed minds?

At the very least, Lauer, like his colleague Gregory, should have provided the context of the controversial comments that prompted Michelle Obama to feel she had to make such a speech.

A transcript of Lauer's interview with Nicole Wallace, which aired at 7:15am on August 26, follows:

MATT LAUER: Nicole Wallace is a spokesperson for it's McCain campaign. She's also in Denver, I guess, checking out the competition. Nicole, good morning to you.

NICOLE WALLACE (McCain spokesman): Good morning, Matt.

LAUER: Let's talk about what you saw last night and let's start with Ted Kennedy, the lion of the Senate, battling cancer. Standing there in front of the delegates bringing some to tears with his words. Putting aside your policy differences for a second, Nicole, how did it rate in terms of pure political theater?

WALLACE: Well, Matt, either I'm losing my edge or Republicans have hearts, too, but I don't know how you couldn't be moved by all of the tender moments last night. And the Kennedy family is certainly, you know, they are Democratic legends, and I don't think you have to be a Democrat to appreciate his courage and his strength. I mean, it was obviously his will that got him to this floor last night. So, it was extraordinary for anybody to see.

LAUER: Let me ask you, then, about Michelle Obama. She spoke last night and her job seemed to be to lay out the life story of her husband Barack Obama and their lives together and also, I think, try to put to rest some of the stories that have been going around, and a lot of them being talked about on conservative talk radio, about her lack of patriotism. So, let me ask you on the record, how she did, and does the McCain campaign doubt her love of country?

WALLACE: Of course not. And, look, I thought she had an incredible night last night. She looked beautiful. I never heard anyone speak in such a large forum with such high stakes about their father in such a tender way. So, I thought that Michelle Obama's talk about her father, how he grew sick and woke up earlier, I mean, it was really a tender moment. Now, I think the question, Matt that we all have to ask is, will these tender moments start to bridge the gap and solve his political problems? And I'm not smart enough to no if they will. I think-

LAUER: His political problems, such as what?

WALLACE: Well, his number one deficiency in the views of the voters that haven't made up their minds yet is that he lacks the experience and judgment to step into the role of commander in chief. So, I didn't see anything last night that leads me to believe that he's begun to bridge that gap. You know, we're very proud. We fought hard and will continue to fight hard every day of this election to win over some of the people who thought that Hillary Clinton would make the best president. At least some of them, I'd say a lot of them, thought she was the best candidate because she has the experience to step into that commander in chief role.

LAUER: Yeah, but Nicole--

WALLACE: And I don't think I saw anything that shows that Barack Obama fixed that worry in the minds of the former Clinton supporters or in the minds of a lot of voters.

LAUER: But, Nicole, there's a big hurdle there for the McCain campaign and you know what it is. If you have got some staunch Hillary Clinton supporters, are they going to switch over and vote for John McCain when there's a major issue like, abortion rights? Are a lot of people who are in favor of a woman's right to choose going to cross over and vote for a pro-life candidate?

WALLACE: We'll have to wait and see. I think rebuilding this economy, breaking our dependence on foreign sources of energy. You know, moms are in a lot of households of people who drive carpools, run errands, who are in their cars all day. And there is nothing that animates you more in some of the town hall meetings we go to than when we talk about John McCain's very specific strategy for breaking our dependence on foreign oil. Making our nation energy dependents. They care about jobs and they care about keeping this country safe.

LAUER: Right.

WALLACE: So, we think we have a shot at those voters. We know it will be uphill. John McCain does best as the underdog who is working uphill. You know, I think we'll get nervous if we ever end up ahead. I think that the Democrats can expect a 10 to 15 point bounce out of this convention. They've got a head of steam with their VP announcement.

LAUER: Right.

WALLACE: And, you know, as we've been talking about, it was a moving night last night.

LAUER: When you mention VPs, your candidate, John McCain, called Barack Obama's choice for vice president, Joe Biden, quote, “wise and formidable.” Did Obama's choice of Biden in any way influence or change the decision John McCain is about to make for his vice presidential candidate?

WALLACE: I'm not sure. You know, John McCain I think, knows himself and knows what he's looking for. I think that we have a lot of respect for Senator Biden. He and Senator McCain have been friends and colleagues a long time. I think the only danger for Barack Obama is that in some ways it puts a neon sign above his head that said, yeesh, I'm not ready for the commander in chief aspect of the job. So, I think it was an interesting choice. I think it was the person he needed but, again, I'm not sure it telegraphs to voters that he feels confidence or ready to lead this nation as its commander in-chief.

Scott Whitlock
Scott Whitlock
Scott Whitlock is the associate editor for the Media Research Center's site.