On Thursday's Today, NBC host Matt Lauer played an interview he taped with rapper Kanye West about his charge that President Bush didn't “care about black people.” Lauer began by implying strongly that Bush is strange to pick this out as his presidency's worst moments, when Bush was responsible for so many: “He was a two-term president who ran the country during Katrina, 9/11, wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and the financial meltdown – and he's pointing the finger at Kanye West and that incident, as the worst moment in his presidency.”
Lauer failed to note at any time in this interview or the promotions of it that West said these scandalous, hurtful, and untrue words on the airwaves of NBC, at their invitation, and their refusal in any way to interrupt him or dispute him during their telethon for Katrina victims. While he walked West through an apology, Lauer offered no apology on NBC's behalf. At the time, Lauer lamely excused it as live television, and NBC had "Saturday Night Live' do a skit about it to take the sting out of the incident, and laugh it off. But the damage to Bush's image remained. West began:
KANYE WEST: As far as it being the worst moment of his presidency, you know I can't, I can't really speak to that. You know, but his, his, his, his take, his explanation I completely agree with and I empathize with, totally. And I felt like that the entire time that, you know, I was being, you know, hailed as a hero and everyone saying, "Yo I'm so happy you said that!" and "I didn't like you before, but now I like you because you said this." And you just sit there and you know, you know in your heart, as a person that to - in emotion, you know in a moment of emotion to peg someone or to call a name or peg someone as a racist is not, it's, it's just not right.
Lauer didn't stick with that thought – that so many Bush-loathing journalists and celebrities enjoyed that quote, honored West for saying it. Lots of commentators were suggesting racism on Bush's part. Matt Damon said "I let out a cheer" on the show Access Hollywood, and wished Bush would attempt to deny he was racist: "So this guy just with this moment, you know, on live television made a statement that hopefully now Bush will come out and address because he doesn't have to address anything else because, you know, the, you know, the White House press corps, you know, they should all have their credentials taken away. Not one of them's an honest journalist, not one of them asks a question of the guy."
In other words, Damon thought that reporters should all repeat West's words at a White House press conference to demonstrate their independence of thought. Lauer walked West through all the apologetic steps:
LAUER: But while most people expressed frustration, you did take it across a line and, and you said, you made it a little more sinister. That the federal response to Katrina was because of race. So do you regret having said that now?
WEST: I don't want to speak on the, the word regret. And I think a lot of things that happened in America, period, are because of race. Just the way this country was built and the struggles we've had to have to, to get into, you know, positions through, through media, through social positions, through gentrification. Through, like so many, it's a, it's a way big conversation than that. But what I wanted to speak to with Bush was, just to say that, I empathize with the, the idea being pegged as a racist.
LAUER: Just play the tape. Don't even listen this time. I want you to just look at his face-
LAUER: -when he is commenting about you and just look at him. I mean this is the most emotional he got during my entire three-and-a-half hour interview with him. What would you say to him, if he would meet with you face-to-face, and I'm not sure he would, but if you would?
WEST: You know I mean I didn't need you guys to show me the, the, the tape in order to like prompt my emotion to what I'm gonna say.
LAUER: No I'm just, I'm just asking you, when you look at his face, what would you say to him?
WEST: I mean pre-looking at his face, I came up here because I wanted to say something to him, right after the fact. You know? I would, I would say, you know I'm saying it's like I only have to do the TV stuff with me. This is reality. This is, this is the real thing going on. This is, you know what I'm saying? I don't, I don't, I don't need all the jazz. I would say to - (looking off-camera) can we be quiet for a second? I would tell George Bush, in my moment of frustration, that I didn't have the grounds to call him a racist.
LAUER: And you, you're sorry.
WEST: Yeah I'm sorry for-
LAUER: I think I get the point.
WEST: I want, I want to give it the, the, the exact perfect wording. Because everything I say gets taken, and drawn into headlines. And I'm here to man up to different mistakes I made, speak to the, you know the moment when I pegged George Bush as a racist. I came here to say that I made mistakes. That I've grown as a person and that it's, it's not as easy as boxing someone into a villain role or into a race role. I did not have the information, enough information, in that situation to call him a racist. That might have been the emotion that I felt but me being a rationale, well-thought out, empathetic human being, and thinking about it, after the fact, I would've chose, chosen different words. Even in these times where I was considered to have done something so wrong, my motivation was from a good place. Maybe miss-timed, maybe not the right wording. Not using or realizing the power of my words and the way they would stop the Internet. But nonetheless that it's very pure and from a good place.
All in all, that's a decent apology. But NBC hasn't rounded up everyone else for an apology -- including NBC anchor Brian Williams -- who drew applause by asserting that Bush would have been much quicker to save white people. Where's that apology, NBC?