There was no way to tell from the advance publicity and clips how poorly Matt Lauer would perform in his primetime interview with George W. Bush tonight, part of the ex-president's book-flacking tour (which will now move on to Oprah and a lengthy embed at Fox News). Oh, we had our suspicions based on Lauer's track record, but the reality was even worse than the fantasy.
For exact quotes, and probably a transcript, you can go elsewhere. NBC will be posting "extended" segments, and Bush will come on the Today Show and even answer viewer questions. They might well be quite a bit better than Matt's.
Time after time Bush would offer a whopper and Lauer either said nothing, or expressed sympathy for the poor man who was subjected o such harsh criticism. It went that way, from Bush saying there was "no intelligence" prior to 9/11 about terrorists maybe wanting to fly planes into buildings, to stating flatly that lack of regulations had anything to do with the financial meltdown.
Bush said he had zero doubts about the WMD intelligence on Iraq, not one—and Lauer eagerly pointed out (doing his Judy Miller impersonation) that George Tenet called it a "slam dunk." (See David Corn's full takedown on this.) Bush said posing in front of the window when flying over New Orleans was a mistake but Lauer helps him finger local officials who had not done enough. Lauer even highlights Bush's claim that he could not send in federal troops because it would have looked like a white president putting down an "insurrection" in largely black city.
On Cheney telling him his daughter is gay: "There's nothing in your background," Lauer gushes, "that would have led him to believe you wouldn't be tolerant."
Lauer practically gave him a reassuring hug when mentioning that a lot of people, gosh, thought poor George, the Decider, was actually being played by Cheney or Rove. Bush declared that waterboarding "saved lives"--a much-disputed assertion (but not by Lauer) -- and explained with little protest from the interviewe that he'd simply been "blindsided" by the financial crisis.
Finally, Bush gave Lauer a dirty look when he mentioned the nearly 4,000 US service members killed in Iraq on his watch, but Matt quickly responded by gushing that the "military families" loved him. He even asks, "Have you been given enough credit, sir, for the success of the surge?"
Favorite Bush quote: "I tend to boost people's spirits during difficult times."
Perhaps the sharpest commentary came near the end: a McRib commercial—boosting another form of fake, pressed-together, junk product.
A new edition of Greg Mitchell's award-winning book "The Campaign of the Century," on the birth of media politics, has just been published.