Even the translator sounded like a tough guy.
To say that Russian President Vladimir Putin was gruff in his interview with Matt Lauer would be an understatement. While Lauer asked some probing questions, he also offered up an unsolicited critique of Bush administration's rhetoric toward Russia, calling it 'very harsh.' When Putin responded with a nasty jab at VP Cheney over his shooting incident, Matt didn't blink, continuing instead to focus on the tough talk of the Bush White House.
Lauer was in St. Petersburg for the g-8 summit Russia is hosting, and scored an exclusive sit-down with Putin. In the set-up piece, Andrea Mitchell rolled the tape of VP Cheney saying of Russia's energy manipulations: "no legitimate interest is served when oil and gas become tools of intimidation or blackmail."
Lauer followed up with Putin, mentioning: "our Vice-President Dick Cheney said recently 'the [Russian] government has unfairly and improperly restricted the rights of the people. Other actions by the Russian government have been counter-productive and could begin to affect relations with other countries.'"
That's when Putin took his nasty shot at the Veep's hunting mishap:
"I think your vice-president's expression there is like his bad shot on his hunting trip."
A breathtakingly undiplomatic thing for Putin to have said. But rather than impale Vlad on it, Lauer seemed to sympathize with the treatment the former KGB agent has received at the hands of the Bush White House: "It's a very harsh tone coming from our administration."
So copacetically set up, Putin was only too happy to agree: "I believe that the concerns do not look sincere. And therefore they are not convincing."
Even then, Matt wouldn't let it go. Apparently perplexed by US policy, Lauer asked "Why does he [Cheney] make statements like this?"
Putin: "What are the motives behind this talk? I think those are political motives. When our partners always thought about the need to constrain Russia and this is the leftover of the cold war."
Putin probably couldn't believe his good luck, getting softballs like this from an American. Then again, the Russian is probably knowledgeable enough about the US media to know what to expect from a leading MSM light.