Talking to Cardinal Dolan, NBC Avoids Clinton Camp’s Catholic Bashing

After refusing to report on New York Cardinal Timothy Dolan condemning the “offensive” and “patronizing” anti-Catholic rhetoric revealed in leaked e-mails from Hillary Clinton’s campaign chairman John Podesta, on Friday, the hosts of NBC’s Today committed journalistic malpractice by continuing to ignore the controversy during an interview with the Church leader.  

Co-host Savannah Guthrie and NBC Nightly News anchor Lester Holt – filling in for absent co-host Matt Lauer – invited Dolan on the morning show to discuss Thursday night’s Al Smith Catholic charity dinner, at which both Clinton and Donald Trump spoke. Ironically, the anchors spent the entire segment fretting over the lack of civility at the traditionally light-hearted event:

> HOLT: Cardinal Dolan joined us earlier this morning and we began by asking him if he had fun last night.

> GUTHRIE: We were just watching some of it and I have to say, it looked a little awkward on TV, there were some boos. Is that how you felt in the room?

> HOLT: But some of the jokes weren’t all that pleasant. And in fact, there were boos, did that surprise you?

> GUTHRIE: We talk about the hot seat, that was your seat in between them. And I'm encouraged to hear that you said there was some friendliness among the three? Did you try to engage a group conversation?

> HOLT: But anybody who was watching in the audience or watching any of the coverage would think this confirms these people really don't like each other. Because some of those things just weren't funny and they were cutting right to the heart.

> GUTHRIE: Well, Cardinal Dolan, it sounds like you had quite a private moment with them and we'd love to see that spill into the public, wouldn’t we? On behalf of all of the American people. That moment of grace among them.  

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Despite seeming to be so concerned with the tone of the campaign, Guthrie and Holt failed to mention that on Tuesday, Dolan demanded an apology from the Clinton campaign for the Catholic bashing by her top aides:

The remarks attributed to John Podesta, who is Mrs. Clinton's chief of staff, are just extraordinarily patronizing and insulting to Catholics. What he would say is offensive. And if it had been said about the Jewish community, if it had been said about the Islamic community, within 10 minutes there would have been an apology.

Here is a full transcript of the October 21 interview with Dolan:

7:31 AM ET

SAVANNAH GUTHRIE: As we mentioned earlier, Timothy Dolan, the Cardinal, was right between Trump and Clinton. Listen to how he described that seat.

TIMOTHY DOLAN: Pardon my congestion and cough. I'm afraid I'm coming down with a cold, which is completely understandable given the fact for the last two hours I’ve had a seat between our two candidates in what's probably the iciest place on the planet. Where is global warming when you need it?  

LESTER HOLT: That’s a good line. Cardinal Dolan joined us earlier this morning and we began by asking him if he had fun last night.

DOLAN: Thanks for that interpretation.

[LAUGHTER]

GUTHRIE: We were just watching some of it and I have to say, it looked a little awkward on TV, there were some boos. Is that how you felt in the room?

[ON-SCREEN HEADLINE: Political Peacemaker? Cardinal Dolan on Awkward Charity Dinner]

DOLAN: Well, listen, I don't mind telling you I was kind of nervous going into it. Now you know the nature of the Al Smith dinner, it’s to be an evening of unity and friendship and joy. And being the host of it for the archdiocese, it's like a family dinner where you’re just hoping that everything goes well. And in general, alleluia, the evening went very well.

But, Savannah, there were some awkward moments. As you guys know, you're pros, whenever you get into humor, there can be a little awkwardness and a little anticipation, “Is this going to work or not? Has this gone over the line? Is this bringing people together?”

I tell you what wasn't awkward, even though we teased about it, is being very close to the two of them. I was very moved by the obvious attempt on behalf of both Secretary Clinton and Mr. Trump to kind of be courteous, to get along, to say nice things privately to one another. I was very moved by that. That was pleasant because I was there with them not only at the – on the dias, but beforehand, for about a half hour.

HOLT: But some of the jokes weren’t all that pleasant. And in fact, there were boos, did that surprise you?  

DOLAN: Yeah, now this was my eight Al Smith dinner, Lester, and the audience is a good indicator. And you can kind of tell the audience has a good sensitivity, first of all, if something’s funny, secondly, if something’s a bomb, but thirdly, if something’s a little out of line. And there were some boos last night and the audience more or less accurately, I think, reflects the sentiments that are going on.

GUTHRIE: We talk about the hot seat, that was your seat in between them. And I'm encouraged to hear that you said there was some friendliness among the three? Did you try to engage a group conversation?

DOLAN: Let's just say I'd rather be sitting between you two.

[LAUGHTER]  

No, I did. And it was – you can tell the two of them are kind of awkward together. That's not new. Four years ago I was with Governor Romney and President Obama and you could tell there was a little iciness. But the purpose of the evening is to break some of that ice. And thanks be to God, it works. The Al Smith dinner, by its nature, literally tries to – I'm sitting between the two and literally I'm supposed to be kind of a bridge to bring these two people together, and I try my best.

And there were some very touching moments. There were – when we were going in, I said, could we pray together as we were waiting to be announced. And after the little prayer, Mr. Trump turned to Secretary Clinton and said, “You know, you are one tough and talented woman.” And he said, “This has been a good experience, this whole campaign, as tough as it's been.” And she said to him, “And, Donald, whatever happens, we need to work together afterwards.” Now I thought this is the evening at its best.

HOLT: But anybody who was watching in the audience or watching any of the coverage would think this confirms these people really don't like each other. Because some of those things just weren't funny and they were cutting right to the heart.

DOLAN: You've got something there, Lester. So I would find that amity that I just described maybe wasn't as present during the both addresses. Here’s what we got, though, somebody afterwards, a professional entertainer, said, “This is kind of the nature of comedy today, in that it is very tough for people to be self-deprecating.” If you look at the history of the Al Smith dinner, when you’ve got a guy like John Kennedy or a fellow like Ronald Reagan, they bring the house down, they are the butt of their own jokes. Last night the two candidates, the butt of their jokes was the other person. The characteristic of the evening is self-deprecating humble humor. That seems to be a tougher and tougher goal to achieve, as was obvious from last night.     

HOLT: Just in general, the way we – things we laugh at these days, yeah.

DOLAN: For all of us, yeah.

GUTHRIE: Well, Cardinal Dolan, it sounds like you had quite a private moment with them and we'd love to see that spill into the public, wouldn’t we? On behalf of all of the American people. That moment of grace among them.  

DOLAN: Well, I hope it gave a good example, yeah.

GUTHRIE: Cardinal, thank you so much for being here.

DOLAN: Thank you, always good to be with you.

HOLT: Great to see you.

GUTHRIE: Appreciate it.

DOLAN: See you soon, I hope.

GUTHRIE: Our conversation with Cardinal Dolan a little bit earlier.


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