Defensive Lauer Forced to Admit Palin Not An Idiot

Confronted by Sarah Palin documentarian John Ziegler, on Monday's "Today" show, NBC's Matt Lauer was forced to admit that the media perception of the Alaska governor as an "idiot" was "a lie." However Lauer displayed some disbelief that the media heavily pushed that line during the campaign as he professed, "I don't think that everybody in the media ran out saying, 'Sarah Palin is an idiot.'" Ziegler got the confession from Lauer, while promoting his film Media Malpractice, in the following exchange as aired during the 7:30 am half hour of the February 23, "Today" show [audio excerpt here]:

JOHN ZIEGLER: Oh wait a minute I, I urged people and I urge you Matt because you've been up to Wasilla. You, you know Sarah Palin. You know that this is a lie that she's some sort of an idiot or a moron.

MATT LAUER: No, no, no. Okay but that's, but that's an extreme state-

ZIEGLER: You know it! Tell, tell America right now what you know.

LAUER: That's an extreme, that's an extreme statement. I'm just asking you-

ZIEGLER: You-

LAUER: -when she-

ZIEGLER: Is it not a lie that she's an idiot? You know it Matt.

LAUER: Of course it's a lie. Nobody, it's-, yeah.

ZIEGLER: It's a lie? So you're acknowledging that the media perception of her is a lie?

LAUER: No wait a second. I don't think, I don't think that everybody in the media ran out saying, "Sarah Palin is an idiot."

ZIEGLER: Really?

When it came to contrasting Palin's coverage with then vice presidential candidate Joseph Biden, Lauer insisted, "Joe Biden has been lampooned by, by members of the media." After Ziegler pointed out the media just merely laughed off Biden gaffes, he then urged Lauer to "Come clean," and "Be the A-Rod of the media!" on liberal bias as seen in this exchange:

LAUER: Well I'm just saying did you think any of the questions were unfair? Or were, are they questions that would fall in line with what you would want someone seeking the second highest elected office in the land to answer?

ZIEGLER: I am all for rigorous questioning, however it should be the same for Barack Obama as it is for Sarah Palin. And what happened with Sarah Palin was the answers that she gave were treated in a completely different fashion than similar bad answers given by Joe Biden or by Barack Obama.

LAUER: But Joe Biden has been lampooned by, by members of the media-

ZIEGLER: Not-

LAUER: -and comedy shows-

ZIEGLER: Not even close-

LAUER: -and-

ZIEGLER: Not even close to what happened to Sarah Palin.

LAUER: There's a lot, a lot of sketch comedy has been done on him putting his foot in his mouth, a lot.

ZIEGLER: It's all in, in, it's all about a joke. "Isn't he funny? There's nothing, it's all harmless." The reality is everything about Sarah Palin-, we did a poll, which you can see at MediaMalpracticeMovie.com, scientific poll proving that voters knew all the bad information about Sarah Palin because people like you repeated it constantly, over and over, even though you know, since you've been to her home that it's a lie that she's some sort of a moron. You know it. Come clean. Be the A-Rod of the media!

LAUER: I, I, I, I think, I think, I think your-

ZIEGLER: Come clean Matt! You can do this, right now, in front of America.

LAUER: I think, well, let me, if I were the A-Rod of the media I'd give you half the truth. But I think, I, I think that, I think that your making it personal with me is not gonna work in this particular situation. But let me ask you this question. In, in what we see in this documentary, if she decides to continue in national politics is, is her stance gonna help or hurt her?

The following is the full interview with Ziegler, preceded by a Norah O'Donnell set-up piece, as it was aired on the February 23, "Today" show:

MATT LAUER: And now to a much-talked about documentary out today about the 2008 election. It's called Media Malpractice: How Obama Got Elected and Palin was Targeted. We're gonna have an exclusive interview with filmmaker John Ziegler in a moment. But first here's NBC's Norah O'Donnell.

NORAH O'DONNELL: Sarah Palin's arrival on the national stage drew a flurry of critical reports about the relatively unknown governor from Alaska.

SARAH PALIN: Little did I know that, that was just the beginning.

O'DONNELL: Free of the constraints of a national political campaign Palin sounds off to conservative commentator John Zeigler in the documentary Media Malpractice. Aptly named because that's the accusation Palin makes about how she was covered. Case in point - the interview with Katie Couric.

KATIE COURIC: What newspapers and magazines did you regularly read before you were tapped for this?

O'DONNELL: Palin stumbled on the answer and says the media twisted that moment into the suggestion that she didn't read at all.

(Begin clip)

COURIC ON THE LATE SHOW: Nobody's really asked her why didn't you answer that question?

DAVID LETTERMAN: Right.

PALIN FROM DOCUMENTARY: Because Katie you're not the center of everybody's universe.

(End clip)

O'DONNELL: In Zeigler's interview in early January, Palin expands on her answer, explaining that her reading habits do differ from some in the lower 48.

PALIN FROM DOCUMENTARY: We read on-line, especially up here, because sometimes some newspapers don't reach us for a couple of days.

O'DONNELL: She acknowledges that she fumbled the Couric interview but she also accuses the campaign staff of muzzling her.

PALIN FROM DOCUMENTARY: I'd like to be able to express, I think, more of who I am and who my family is and what our state represents.

O'DONNELL: Some initial media reports about Palin were later proven false, like whether she banned books from the local library in Wasilla. She did not. She disputes other reports as distorted, including ones that said she once likened America's invasion of Iraq to a holy war.

PALIN IN YOUTUBE CLIP: Our leaders, our national leaders are sending them out on a task that is from God.

PALIN FROM DOCUMENTARY: Obviously it was taken out of context.

HOWARD KURTZ, WASHINGTON POST MEDIA CRITIC: What Sarah Palin does is she takes a few outrageous instances like those who question whether Trigg was really her baby and she uses that to paint with a broad brush the entire media establishment.

O'DONNELL: Palin says she's not whining about coverage of herself but gets defensive about negative attention focused on her children, particularly the pregnancy of teenage daughter Bristol.

PALIN FROM DOCUMENTARY: That's a hurtful one because Bristol and Levi are trying to do the right thing.

O'DONNELL: Still, just last week Bristol sat down with Fox's Greta Van Susteren to discuss her son Tripp.

BRISTOL PALIN: He brings so much joy it's, I don't regret it at all. I just wish it had happened in 10 years rather than right now.

O'DONNELL: For "Today," Norah O'Donnell, NBC News, Washington.

LAUER: John Ziegler is the filmmaker behind this documentary. Hi John, good morning. Nice to see you.

JOHN ZIEGLER: Good morning to you Matt.

LAUER: Let, let me understand your reasons for making this. Were you outraged by the coverage of Sarah Palin and, and the presidential election in general and set out to prove the case as to why you were outraged or did your outrage grow in the process of making this?

ZIEGLER: Well I had outrage all over the place. I was outraged-

LAUER: More than enough to go around?

ZIEGLER: Yeah there was lots to go around Matt. I was outraged during the primaries. I think Hillary Clinton supporters have an awful lot to be outraged about. And a lot about this film, a lot in this film is about the primaries and how the media completely treated Barack Obama differently than they did Hillary Clinton. And then when Sarah Palin entered the picture we got to a whole new level of media malpractice and I felt as if there had been an awful lot of misinformation about Sarah Palin. I set out to prove that and she did an interview with me that was far more extensive than the report you just indicated-

LAUER: Sure.

ZIEGLER: -it's, the entire interview is gonna be on the DVD that's out today and I hope people will take a look at it.

LAUER: So before I get into specifics is this a documentary in the truest form of the word or is this a documentary in the form that a Michael Moore tends to bring to the screen.

ZIEGLER: I'm no Michael Moore because I have facts and a lot less fat. So I'm no Michael Moore. But so this is a documentary that actually tells the truth about the overwhelming evidence that the media had an agenda here, Matt.

LAUER: So there was a concerted effort, in your opinion, on the part of the mainstream media, let's make sure we separate that out-

ZIEGLER: Sure.

LAUER: -and I guess that would include our show here.

ZIEGLER: Certainly.

LAUER: But to tear down this person and ask different types of questions than, than we would ask or anybody would ask of other candidates.

ZIEGLER: I think the evidence is overwhelming and it's in my documentary that Sarah Palin was held to a completely different standard than Barack Obama or Joe Biden. And I think John McCain and Hillary Clinton were also held to different standards. You guys were in love with Barack Obama from very early on and it showed in every single element of the news media coverage. This is like trying to prove Barry Bonds did steroids. I mean this is, this is the easiest case in the world to prove. I can't believe I'm the only one trying to prove it.

LAUER: I mean obviously you...say we were in love with Barack Obama. I, we could sit here and have a two-hour show on that alone. But let me, let me stick to your documentary for a second. When you watched the Katie Couric interview with Sarah Palin, what was your initial, gut reaction? What did you walk away thinking?

ZIEGLER: It didn't go as well as it should have. But I also-

LAUER: Is that an understatement?

ZIEGLER: Oh wait a minute I, I urged people and I urge you Matt because you've been up to Wasilla. You, you know Sarah Palin. You know that this is a lie that she's some sort of an idiot or a moron.

LAUER: No, no, no. Okay but that's, but that's an extreme state-

ZIEGLER: You know it! Tell, tell America right now what you know.

LAUER: That's an extreme, that's an extreme statement. I'm just asking you-

ZIEGLER: You-

LAUER: -when she-

ZIEGLER: Is it not a lie that she's an idiot? You know it Matt.

LAUER: Of course it's a lie. Nobody, it's-, yeah.

ZIEGLER: It's a lie? So you're acknowledging that the media perception of her is a lie?

LAUER: No wait a second. I don't think, I don't think that everybody in the media ran out saying, "Sarah Palin is an idiot."

ZIEGLER: Really?

LAUER: Let me, let me stick to the questions here. When, when she was asked some pertinent, basic questions-

ZIEGLER: Right.

LAUER: -that you would want your vice presidential candidate-

ZIEGLER: Sure.

LAUER: -to answer, did you think she answered them well?

ZIEGLER: Well I did not but I also now believe, in fact I know because of my interview with her and the research that we've done, what we've put in the documentary that numerous episodes in that interview have been completely misstated and misunderstood and used by the media to eviscerate her credibility with independent voters that were so drawn to her that threatened the Barack Obama candidacy. The evidence is overwhelming here. She sets the record straight in this documentary and I urge any one that cares about the historical record about the nature of our media in this democracy to check this out.

LAUER: I guess what, what I'm looking for in here John is, is when you, when you listen to the questions asked by Katie and, and other people-

ZIEGLER: Right.

LAUER: -for example-

ZIEGLER: Give me an example!

LAUER: Well I'm just saying did you think any of the questions were unfair? Or were, are they questions that would fall in line with what you would want someone seeking the second highest elected office in the land to answer?

ZIEGLER: I am all for rigorous questioning, however it should be the same for Barack Obama as it is for Sarah Palin. And what happened with Sarah Palin was the answers that she gave were treated in a completely different fashion than similar bad answers given by Joe Biden or by Barack Obama.

LAUER: But Joe Biden has been lampooned by, by members of the media-

ZIEGLER: Not-

LAUER: -and comedy shows-

ZIEGLER: Not even close-

LAUER: -and-

ZIEGLER: Not even close to what happened to Sarah Palin.

LAUER: There's a lot, a lot of sketch comedy has been done on him putting his foot in his mouth, a lot.

ZIEGLER: It's all in, in, it's all about a joke. "Isn't he funny? There's nothing, it's all harmless." The reality is everything about Sarah Palin-, we did a poll, which you can see at MediaMalpracticeMovie.com, scientific poll proving that voters knew all the bad information about Sarah Palin because people like you repeated it constantly, over and over, even though you know, since you've been to her home that it's a lie that she's some sort of a moron. You know it. Come clean. Be the A-Rod of the media!

LAUER: I, I, I, I think, I think, I think your-

ZIEGLER: Come clean Matt! You can do this, right now, in front of America.

LAUER: I think, well, let me, if I were the A-Rod of the media I'd give you half the truth. But I think, I, I think that, I think that your making it personal with me is not gonna work in this particular situation. But let me ask you this question. In, in what we see in this documentary, if she decides to continue in national politics is, is her stance gonna help or hurt her?

ZIEGLER: I think she needs to set the record straight. I think any one that cares about the truth should check out this documentary. I personally believe it's gonna be very difficult to overcome what the media did to her in four years. I personally would like to see her run in eight years because you guys are gonna make sure Barack Obama gets reelected no matter what. So I think 2016 is probably a better shot for Sarah Palin. But more importantly than that this is about the nature of our news media and the nature of our democracy and the record has to be set straight about what happened here. Because this was dangerous regardless, regardless of your political persuasion.

LAUER: Let's just make sure we understand though, as I say goodbye, that you're asking me to defend a comment that Sarah Palin is an idiot. I never made that comment.

ZIEGLER: No, no but you know the perception of her is not true, because you met her.

LAUER: But don't make me, don't make me defend something I never said.

ZIEGLER: No but that is the perception and you know Matt, as far as you, I thought your coverage was pretty good except I think you and Barack-

LAUER: You wouldn't know that from what you just said for the last few minutes!

ZIEGLER: Wait a minute, hold on a second. I do think though that you, you and Barack had no problem being in each other's personal space, quite a bit.

You, you seem to get along pretty well and I doubt that you would...

LAUER: I apologize for that John. I got along with the guy. I apologize for that, John.

ZIEGLER: He certainly likes you, no doubt about that.

LAUER: It's good to see you.

ZIEGLER: Matt thanks so much for your time.

LAUER: Thanks very much. 7:44am, Media Malpractice is out today on DVD.

*****Update: Readers are encouraged to review the interview Ziegler did last week with NewsBusters.

Geoffrey Dickens
Geoffrey Dickens
Geoffrey Dickens is the Deputy Research Director at the Media Research Center.