NBC Hails Rolling Stone as ‘Cultural Bible’ Advancing Liberal Causes

In a friendly softball interview with Rolling Stone founder Jann Wenner for Tuesday’s NBC Today, co-host Matt Lauer celebrated the liberal magazine’s 50th anniversary: “For five decades, Rolling Stone magazine has been the home of the cool, the groundbreaking and the controversial....its influence has stretched into pop culture, entertainment, and politics, ultimately becoming the cultural bible for baby boomers.”

That line was nearly identical to the fawning opening paragraph of a September New York Times profile marking the milestone: “...Jann S. Wenner started a magazine that would become the counterculture bible for baby boomers. Rolling Stone defined cool...” Continuing to sound like an adoring fan, Lauer asked: “Tell me the moment, the cover, the story, whatever, when you realized you had entered the consciousness of this country? When you said, ‘We’ve made it, we’ve achieved our mission statement’?”

 

 

Moments later, the morning show host teed up Wenner to tout his favorite left-wing causes: “When you look back at the times that you’ve had in the magazine, what are you most proud of in terms of a social issue that you got ahead of?” Wenner responded:

Well, we’ve been really – I don’t know if we’ve got ahead – we’ve been really strong on gun control, we followed that for a long time. It’s an outrage that nothing’s been done. We’ve been very strong on pot legalization, which is getting done. And now we’re involve in a – one of the leading publications to be discussing climate change.

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Moving on to the magazine’s involvement in Democratic campaign politics, Lauer fondly recalled: “1992, you and some others interviewed then-candidate Bill Clinton. What did you recognize in him that told you he was going to be a political force?” Wenner offered this glowing assessment: “Well, you know, he was young, very eloquent and well-spoken, and he just had a really glib thing about him. And he was personable.”

Lauer happily concluded that the press was a willing doormat for Clinton: “And knew how to handle the media. He knew how to use the media.” Wenner agreed: “He was young and charming.”

Briefly noting one of Rolling Stone’s controversies, Lauer wondered:

In 2013, August, you put a cover picture of Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, one of the Boston bombers, on the cover of the magazine. And boy did you take some heat for that. A lot of people said you glamorized him, you treated him like a celebrity and a rock star. Was it a mistake?

Wenner admitted: “...looking back, I think I would not have done it again....it was a mistake to have a villain celebrated.”

“Was that your biggest do-over or are there some others?,” Lauer asked, leaving it up to the magazine’s creator to mention a major fake news scandal for the publication. Wenner replied: “Well, the other one is the University of Virginia case, in which we got, you know, really duped by somebody who came in and sold us a story that was false.” Lauer didn’t bother to follow up.

Wrapping the sit-down, Lauer actually pressed Wenner on a newly released book: “You’re not happy with a biography of you that’s just come out.” Wenner dismissed it: “Yeah, it’s kind of turned out to be rather shallow and full of inaccuracies.” Lauer then turned the tables: “You called it ‘deeply flawed and tawdry,’ and then you used a ‘bull-blank’ word....Isn’t the book, in some ways, kind of like one of – an article that would appear in Rolling Stone magazine?”

Wenner laughably declared: “No, it’s shallow and very inaccurate and really against all the kind of standards of excellence in journalism and writing that we have.”

Were those the same “standards of excellence” that led Rolling Stone to publish a false rape story?  

The biased exchange was brought to viewers by JCPenney, Purina pet food, and Cigna health insurance.

Here is a full transcript of the November 7 segment:

8:20 AM ET

MATT LAUER: For five decades, Rolling Stone magazine has been the home of the cool, the groundbreaking and the controversial. And while its focus is music, its influence has stretched into pop culture, entertainment, and politics, ultimately becoming the cultural bible for baby boomers. Jann Wenner has been at the helm of Rolling Stone since he founded it in 1967, 50 years ago this Thursday. The magazine’s being celebrated with a new HBO documentary airing this week, and a new coffee-table book. Jann, always nice to see you, good morning.

JANN WENNER: Good to see you.  

LAUER: How you doing?

WENNER: I’m doing well.

[ON-SCREEN HEADLINE: Rock Stars, Writing and Rolling Stone; Founder Jann Wenner on 50 Years of Iconic Magazine]

LAUER: Give me the two-sentence mission statement when you founded the magazine.

WENNER: “Rolling Stone is for the people who believe in rock and roll, and believe it’s the magic that can set you free. It’s just about music, but all the attitudes and ideas that music embraces.”

LAUER: That was 1967. Tell me the moment, the cover, the story, whatever, when you realized you had entered the consciousness of this country? When you said, “We’ve made it, we’ve achieved our mission statement”?

WENNER: Well, I don’t – it’s not made it – but I remember the first sort of big flurry we were involved in, is we printed that cover of John Lennon and Yoko Ono naked in our first anniversary issue in 1968 and we got some coverage there and we got a headline in the local newspaper that says, “Naked Beatle Perils SF,” so.

LAUER: Yeah, that photo, by the way, one of the most famous photos we’ll ever see. It was also very poignant, you put it on the cover of the magazine shortly after he died. I think Annie –

WENNER: Well, that’s a different – that’s a – yeah, different picture.

LAUER: Okay. But I think Annie Leibovitz shot that other photo of him, I think, on the day, or the day before, has was actually killed.

WENNER: The day before, yeah, yeah.

LAUER: When you look back at the times that you’ve had in the magazine, what are you most proud of in terms of a social issue that you got ahead of?

WENNER: Well, we’ve been really – I don’t know if we’ve got ahead – we’ve been really strong on gun control, we followed that for a long time. It’s an outrage that nothing’s been done. We’ve been very strong on pot legalization, which is getting done. And now we’re involve in a – one of the leading publications to be discussing climate change.

LAUER: 1985, you did a two-part article on the AIDS epidemic

WENNER: That’s correct.

LAUER: At a time when this country was still trying to get its head around what this was. Do you think you changed the conversation?

WENNER: I – it was the first big – real big national piece about AIDS and it brought it to everybody’s attention. I think, you know, it was popping up here and there and there were some discussion, but the whole issue hadn’t been focused and crystalized into one really coherent explanation of was going on. And it was going to be an epidemic.

LAUER: The person who’s been on the cover more than anyone else is – Bob Dylan.

WENNER: Bob Dylan?  

LAUER: Was that purely because of your own person fandom?

WENNER: No, it’s just that Bob, during his entire career, just keeps working, keeps putting out albums, and despite his reputation as a recluse, is always out there on the never-ending tour. Is it Bob Dylan?

LAUER: Bob Dylan, yeah. That’s what – that’s according to our research.

WENNER: I’m sure you’re right.

LAUER: 1992, you and some others interviewed then-candidate Bill Clinton.

WENNER: Right.

LAUER: What did you recognize in him that told you he was going to be a political force?

WENNER: Well, you know, he was young, very eloquent and well-spoken, and he just had a really glib thing about him. And he was personable.  

LAUER: And knew how to handle the media. He knew how to use the media.

WENNER: He was young and charming.

LAUER: In 2013, August, you put a cover picture of Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, one of the Boston bombers, on the cover of the magazine. And boy did you take some heat for that.

WENNER: Right.

LAUER: A lot of people said you glamorized him, you treated him like a celebrity and a rock star. Was it a mistake?

WENNER: Well, I think – looking back, I think I would not have done it again, if I had a choice. I think the cover is so powerful an idea and so iconic a place to be that it’s – in people’s minds, it’s reserved for heros only, and he was a villain. And it was a mistake to have a villain celebrated. Plus, that picture, he looked like a rock star. He looked like the kid who lived next door, kind of. And that aspect of it really irritated people.

LAUER: So would that be your –     

WENNER: It was a great story, but I would not have put it on the cover.

LAUER: Was that your biggest do-over or are there some others?

WENNER: Well, the other one is the University of Virginia case, in which we got, you know, really duped by somebody who came in and sold us a story that was false.

LAUER: You have yourself achieved the level of fame now that you’ve been covering for many years. What’s the one thing you learned about fame that you didn’t know before you achieved it?

WENNER: I don’t – I don’t know. I don’t think anything – you know, I know if you’re famous you get good reservations at good restaurants quickly. You know, that’ about the best of it.

LAUER: There’s something in the headlines right now, I just want to get you before you go away. You’re not happy with a biography of you that’s just come out.

WENNER: Yeah, it’s kind of turned out to be rather shallow and full of inaccuracies.

LAUER: You called it “deeply flawed and tawdry,” and then you used a “bull-blank” word.

WENNER: Yeah, well.

LAUER: You commissioned the book.

WENNER: I agreed.

LAUER: Isn’t the book, in some ways, kind of like one of – an article that would appear in Rolling Stone magazine?

WENNER: Not at all.

LAUER: No?

WENNER: No, it’s shallow and very inaccurate and really against all the kind of standards of excellence in journalism and writing that we have.

LAUER: Are you going to be commissioning any other books?

WENNER: One on you.

LAUER: Oh, great. Good luck with that. Jann Wenner, thanks very much.

WENNER: Pleasure, good to see you.

LAUER: Good to have you here. Congratulations on 50 years of Rolling Stone.


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