A not-guilty pleasure: Matt Lauer's interview with Sen. Larry Craig

NBC's much-hyped prime time with the disgraced Idahoan indeed showed that Matt Lauer is no Mike Wallace. But would Eric Idle have done better? Say no more.
Crosscut archive image.

A photo simulation of <i>Monty Python</i>'s Eric Idle and Sen. Larry Craig.

NBC's much-hyped prime time with the disgraced Idahoan indeed showed that Matt Lauer is no Mike Wallace. But would Eric Idle have done better? Say no more.

If you're watching the Doomsday Clock on Western Civilization, the big hand moved another minute to midnight during NBC prime time, when Matt Lauer went toe to toe with Sen. Larry Craig, R-Men's Room.

I wanted to turn off the tube and re-read Alan Greenspan but could not resist staying with Lauer's much-hyped interview with Craig, who, after an arrest at the Minneapolis airport, favored his resignation before he was against it. There was competition. In the junk news category, the Craig interview was almost eclipsed by Ellen DeGeneres' on-air meltdown over a dog custody dispute.

The Lauer-Craig moment is preserved by video and transcript, though The Washington Post's Tom Shales sees nothing of value to preserve: "Matt Lauer is no Mike Wallace. Lauer was anything but hard-hitting or confrontational ..." Indeed, Lauer had no new information with which to confront Craig and may have dinged his own credibility by saying he didn't know what cruising means. Both men used the euphemism "going to the bathroom" for going to the bathroom.

Perhaps the whole Mike Wallace thing was what Craig expected. Monty Python's Eric Idle might have done better as journalist or entertainer: "You're wicked? Know what I mean? Wink wink. Say no more." Abandoned by his GOP colleagues, pathetically seeking help from former opponents at the ACLU, the disgraced Craig remains a weird man walking.

So it was a lesser moment in broadcast history, but a revealing moment in spin. The Lauer-Craig interview put in view common techniques used by celebrities and politicians to recover from a disaster.

Craig's advisors doubtless had control, if not strong influence, over who would get the interview with Craig, where it would take place, and perhaps even camera angles.

Putting aside Lauer's brawl with actor Tom Cruise, Craig's advisors were probably hoping for the same treatment Lauer gave to Britney Spears, soft as Charmin, a moment deservedly parodied.

Second, the interview took place with subjects gathered around a fireplace, flowers, and family photos in the background. It couldn't have been an accident that every camera angle had prominent shots of Craig's grandchildren. That setting conveys a sense of values, rootedness, believability – everything that's now suspect with Craig. The senator dressed casually, showing he's relaxed with himself and the facts. One demerit: Someone forgot to light the fire.

Craig was obviously well-prepared, shrewdly insisting that the taped interrogation with police proved his claims; he really has no choice. But the essential ingredient was the role played by his wife, Suzanne, who – to use that Tammy Wynette line famously ridiculed by Hillary Clinton – stood by her man. Or, rather, sat by her man, backing up his story, asserting he's never been unfaithful, patting his knee with her hand, a consoling gesture.

Her words and presence sought to displace doubts about him with a good feeling about her. It didn't completely work: What is it with people who refer to themselves or their spouse in the third person? Both Craigs did that. It just seems odd. Know what I mean? Wink wink.


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About the Authors & Contributors

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O. Casey Corr

O. Casey Corr is a Seattle native, author and marketing communications consultant.