Danger: 'Manterrupting' ahead
Last night’s forum with Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump was supposed to spark a lively discussion about national security issues and veterans affairs, but it wound up setting off a Twitterstorm about Matt Lauer’s moderating tactics, and even sparked accusations that his approach was sexist.
The event, which you can view in its entirety here, led Twitter users to say that Lauer, the host of the Today show, did not treat the two U.S. presidential candidates equally.
Veteran political pundit Norman Ornstein summed up the sentiment expressed by a number of journalists and political observers when he tweeted, “Lauer interrupted Clinton’s answers repeatedly to move on. Not once for Trump.” Ornstein, a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, concluded that it’s “tough to be a woman running for president.”
The New York Times highlighted one instance in particular, involving an Army veteran in the audience who asked Clinton how she would overcome the Islamic State. Once the question was posed, Lauer did not allow the Democratic candidate to start her answer, but instead quickly said, “As briefly as you can.”
Clinton didn’t seem bothered by the comment, but social media users were. The Daily Caller cited Twitter users who said they were irked that Lauer interrupted Clinton. Taking it a step further, Neera Tanden, president of the Center for American Progress, the public policy research group, noted that “many people” were saying Lauer “wouldn’t have interrupted Hillary so much if she were a man.”
Lauer also came under criticism for the questions he asked each candidate. The Huffington Post noted that the moderator did not ask Trump tough questions about some of the controversial statements he’s made in the past.
Case in point: Lauer did not query the Republican candidate on his suggestion that Ghazala Khan, the mother of a Muslim American soldier who was killed in Iraq, stood silently by her husband as he spoke at the DNC because she was not allowed to speak. (Khan, for her part, responded with a powerful piece in the Washington Post, in which she wrote: “Without saying a thing, all the world, all America, felt my pain. I am a Gold Star mother.”)
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Conversely, Lauer dedicated about a third of the time he had to question Clinton to a series of queries about her private email server, New York Magazine writer Jonathan Chait reported.
Summing up the event, Maggie Haberman, the NYT’s presidential campaign correspondent, tweeted, “Clinton got tougher questions, but also got visibly irritated and defensive. Trump got mostly softballs.” NBC didn’t respond to a request for comment.
The only person who might have received more criticism than Lauer Wednesday night was Republican National Committee chair Reince Priebus, who complained that Clinton wasn’t smiling—a critique that is only ever lodged at women.
When asked about Priebus’ comments at a press conference on Thursday, Clinton said her facial expression at the town hall reflected the seriousness of the the issues she was discussing. “Donald Trump chose to talk about his deep admiration and support for Vladimir Putin,” she said. “Maybe he did it with a smile—and I guess the RNC would have liked that.”
Women on Twitter, meanwhile, started posting selfies and photos of female historical icon under the hashtag #presidentialface in support of Clinton.