NBC's Matt Lauer Gets Tough with Democrat Jack Conway

  Kentucky Democratic Senate candidate Jack Conway's recent ad questioning the faith of his opponent Republican Rand Paul was so beyond the pale that even NBC's Matt Lauer, on Tuesday's Today show, repeatedly hit Conway with questions about its appropriateness as he pressed, "Did it cross a line? Is it fair, even in the increasingly dirty world of politics?" The ad, which brought up allegations of Paul's behavior in his college days, was so over-the-top Lauer could not let Conway's charges go unchallenged as he questioned Conway's veracity, as seen in the following exchange:

MATT LAUER: This latest ad of yours ignited a firestorm. It clearly ignited the passions of Mr. Paul. Did it cross a line? Is it fair, even in the increasingly dirty world of politics? Do you stand by it?

JACK CONWAY: I stand by it. I'm not questioning his faith, I'm questioning his actions, Matt. The president of Baylor University banned a group that Rand Paul joined. And he banned this group, a few years before Rand Paul went to Baylor. He banned them because they were quote, "Making fun of Christianity and Christ." And, and our question is, why did he join a group that was known for mocking people of faith?

LAUER: Much, much of what-

CONWAY: And when is it ever appropriate to tie up a woman and ask her to bow down in front of a false idol?

LAUER: Much of what you include in this ad comes from an article that was written on Rand Paul back in GQ and then subsequent articles that were written in the Washington Post, on Politico and some other publications.

CONWAY: CBS News.

LAUER: What, what you do not include in your ad is that there was other information in those articles. For example this group that you say made fun of Christianity and was, and was banned from the university, it says this idea of calling the Bible a hoax actually came from a satirical writing. This woman -- that you say was tied down and forced to bow to a god named Aqua Buddha – well in, in interviews she has said she thought of it as friendly hazing, a joke among friends and she went along willingly. So did you leave out important information or did you misrepresent the facts to score political points?The following is the full interview as it was aired on the October 19 Today show:

MATT LAUER: Kentucky's Senate race has become one of the nation's most volatile contests and now Republican Rand Paul now says he may opt out of the next debate because he is angry about his opponent's latest attack ad that questions Paul's Christian beliefs - a point he made very clear during Sunday's debate.

(Begin clip)

RAND PAUL: Jack you should be ashamed of yourself. You should apologize. Have you no decency? I will not shake hands with someone who attacks my religion and attacks my Christian beliefs. These are something very personal to me.

(End clip)

LAUER: Paul walked off stage without shaking Jack Conway's hand. Mr. Conway is with us now. We should note that we invited Rand Paul to join us. He declined our invitation. Mr. Conway, good morning to you.

[On screen headline: "Final Two Weeks, Conway On Kentucky's Bitter Battle For U.S. Senate"]

JACK CONWAY: Good morning to you, Matt.

LAUER: This latest ad of yours ignited a firestorm. It clearly ignited the passions of Mr. Paul. Did it cross a line? Is it fair, even in the increasingly dirty world of politics? Do you stand by it?

CONWAY: I stand by it. I'm not questioning his faith, I'm questioning his actions, Matt. The president of Baylor University banned a group that Rand Paul joined. And he banned this group, a few years before Rand Paul went to Baylor. He banned them because they were quote, "Making fun of Christianity and Christ." And, and our question is, why did he join a group that was known for mocking people of faith?

LAUER: Much, much of what-

CONWAY: And when is it ever appropriate to tie up a woman and ask her to bow down in front of a false idol?

LAUER: Much of what you include in this ad comes from an article that was written on Rand Paul back in GQ and then subsequent articles that were written in the Washington Post, on Politico and some other publications.

CONWAY: CBS News.

LAUER: What, what you do not include in your ad is that there was other information in those articles. For example this group that you say made fun of Christianity and was, and was banned from the university, it says this idea of calling the Bible a hoax actually came from a satirical writing. This woman -- that you say was tied down and forced to bow to a god named Aqua Buddha – well in, in interviews she has said she thought of it as friendly hazing, a joke among friends and she went along willingly. So did you leave out important information or did you misrepresent the facts to score political points?

CONWAY: No, I'm not misrepresenting anything. We're not, we're not going by the first version of her story. She went back, and in a subsequent interview, she said the whole thing seemed sadistic. She said the whole thing seemed weird. And she ended her friendship with Rand Paul after that. So I don't think it's appropriate, whether you're 22-years-old or you're 42-years-old to ever tie up a woman and ask her to kneel down before a false god, that you call Aqua Buddha.

LAUER: You, you said you're not questioning Mr. Paul's faith. Let me ask you, in a different way, and, and it's, it's a kind of important area of semantics. Do you think Mr. Paul is a man of faith?

CONWAY: I am not questioning his faith, Matt...

LAUER: That's not what I'm asking. Do you think he is a man of faith?

CONWAY: Listen I take him, when he says that, listen he's a Christian, and I take him at that. I am, I'm not questioning that. I'm questioning his actions. I don't think it's ever appropriate, regardless of age, to mock people of faith. I don't think it's appropriate to ever tie a woman up and ask her to kneel down before a false idol.

LAUER: Let, let me ask-

CONWAY: And, and there's a straight line, Matt, running from Dr. Paul's college days, when he wrote about no need for equality provisions for women, there's no need for any anti-discrimination laws-

LAUER: Let me ask you this, Mr. Conway.

CONWAY: -and some of the positions he's taken this fall.

LAUER: Some other Democrats don't necessarily see eye-to-eye with you on this. Senator Claire McCaskill, a Democrat from Missouri, says, this ad is a very dangerous ad because it reaches back to college, quote, "I think the ad came close to the line." The New Republic, I think you can characterize that as a fairly liberal publication, says quote, "This is the ugliest, most illiberal political ad of the year." That's not exactly an award you want to win.

CONWAY: Well I think that people that, that have criticisms need to take a look at the facts of the whole situation. Rand Paul has been asked, repeatedly, whether or not this occurred. He's never denied it, he's never denied it. And, and the facts are clear that he joined a group that mocks people of faith. And I don't think that's ever appropriate. And there is a straight line going between his college days and when he wrote quite a bit for his student newspaper and the positions he's taken on the campaign trail this fall, where he's questioned fundamental provisions of the Americans with Disabilities Act. He's questioned, he's questioned the Civil Rights Act. There's a straight line between-

LAUER: Mr. Conway you're in a state, you're in a state that's got what, like the rest of the country, about 10 percent unemployment?

CONWAY: Yeah.

LAUER: People are living in, in desperate economic times. Is this, do you think, what they want to talk about so close to an election? And does this foreshadow what kind of a senator you might be in Washington? Are you gonna be a guy who goes there and continues the political divide or, or are you someone who can reach across the political aisle to make changes that are necessary for the people of this country?

CONWAY: I think I've, I have earned a reputation for reaching across the political aisle as the attorney general of the Commonwealth of Kentucky. I've worked with Republicans to get cyber-safety legislation passed and jobs are the number one issue in the Commonwealth of Kentucky. I actually have a jobs plan, my opponent doesn't. Rand Paul is on record as having said that people need to work for lesser wages and they just need a little tough love. Well I actually have a jobs plan that will create about 11,000 jobs in Kentucky. Rand Paul is on record saying he wants a $2000 deductible for Medicare.

LAUER: Right.

CONWAY: He thinks Social Security is a Ponzi scheme that ought to be privatized and he supports a 23 percent sales tax.

LAUER: We're gonna-

CONWAY: And that's why I'm happy that, that, that PCCC put me up as one of their Social Security protectors at SocialSecurityProtectors.com this week.

LAUER: Okay.

CONWAY: So there are other issues in this campaign that we're highlighting as well.

LAUER: Mr. Conway, we appreciate your time. The election in two weeks. We'll see what the voters have to say.

CONWAY: Thank you, Matt.

LAUER: We appreciate it. Thanks so much.

CONWAY: My pleasure.

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