NBC's 'Today' Frets Scott Brown Getting 'Nasty' and 'Personal' in Mass. Senate Race

At the top of Friday's NBC Today, co-host Matt Lauer wondered if a joke by Republican Massachusetts Senator Scott Brown in response to a jab by Democratic Senate candidate Elizabeth Warren was a "comeback or insult" and noted that "women's groups are giving him a big dressing down today."

In a later tease of the story, fellow co-host Ann Curry proclaimed: "A senate race in Massachusetts has turned ugly and personal." Lauer summed up the situation this way: "...during a debate, a potential Democratic challenger took a shot at Republican Senator Scott Brown for saying that he had to pose nude in Cosmopolitan magazine way back in 1982 to pay for school. Brown's response is now what's drawing a lot of heat."

Introducing the segment on the trade of barbs, Lauer again emphasized how the Senate race was "turning personal," as the headline on screen read: "Cosmo Controversy; Senate Battle Turns Nasty Over Nude Photo Spread."

In the report that followed, Correspondent Kelly O'Donnell described how Warren quipped that she had "kept her clothes on" to pay for her education and that Brown later responded by remarking, "thank God." O'Donnell observed: "Rarely do two simple words cause such an uproar."    

O'Donnell posed the question: "Was that just a snappy comeback or a personal insult?" After playing sound bites of both Warren and Brown, O'Donnell focused on negative reaction to Brown: "Some Democrats and women's groups angrily said Brown's comment was more suited to a quote, 'frat house,' and a dig at Warren's appearance. A race getting personal." Glen Johnson of The Boston Globe argued: "I'm not sure that Elizabeth Warren's remark was entirely innocent but there's been a real sort of towel-snapping quality to Scott Brown's campaign so far."

O'Donnell did feature a fuller response from Brown: "Let them throw stones. I did what I had to do. But not for having that opportunity, I never would have been able to pay for school, and never would have gone to school." Wrapping up the story, she also noted: "Now there were a couple of women in the Senate, Republicans, who did back up Scott Brown. Kelly Ayotte of New Hampshire and Susan Collins of Maine said that no one should make fun of how he had to pay for school because he had a humble background."


Here is a full transcript of the October 7 segment:

7:01AM ET TEASE:

MATT LAUER: And comeback or insult? A Democratic rival takes a jab at Senator Scott Brown for claiming he had to pose nude back in 1982 to help pay for college, leading to this dig from the Senator.

KEVIN KARLSON [BOSTON RADIO HOST]: Have you officially responded to Elizabeth Warren's comment about how she didn't take her clothes off?

SCOTT BROWN: Thank God.

LAUER: Now women's groups are giving him a big dressing down today.

7:25AM ET TEASE:

LAUER: Still ahead, Senator Scott Brown spars with a potential challenger over his nude photo shoot in 1982.

7:30AM ET TEASE:

ANN CURRY: A senate race in Massachusetts has turned ugly and personal.

LAUER: Yeah, here's what happened, during a debate, a potential Democratic challenger took a shot at Republican Senator Scott Brown for saying that he had to pose nude in Cosmopolitan magazine way back in 1982 to pay for school. Brown's response is now what's drawing a lot of heat. Coming up, what he said that's causing controversy.

7:35AM ET SEGMENT:

LAUER: Now to a Senate battle in Massachusetts that's turning personal and the controversy stems from the incumbent's nude photo spread nearly 30 years ago. NBC's Capitol Hill correspondent Kelly O'Donnell has the details on this. Kelly, good morning.

[ON-SCREEN HEADLINE: Cosmo Controversy; Senate Battle Turns Nasty Over Nude Photo Spread]

KELLY O'DONNELL: Good morning, Matt. Well, not every Senate race gets this kind of national attention, but consider that Scott Brown has often been named the most popular elected official in Massachusetts, according to polls, so it was only a matter of time before that centerfold from way back when would become an issue and a punch line in 2012. Well, it started, the insults have begun in Massachusetts. Rarely do two simple words cause such an uproar.

SCOTT BROWN: Thank God.

O'DONNELL: Was that just a snappy comeback or a personal insult from Republican Senator Scott Brown aimed at potential Democratic challenger, Harvard professor Elizabeth Warren? It all goes back to this, in 1982 Brown bared it all for Cosmopolitan magazine. He said he needed the money for tuition.

SAVANNAH GUTHRIE: You were a Cosmo guy.

BROWN: Is that on your screen saver?

GUTHRIE: I'll never confess.

O'DONNELL: A photo that won't ever go away. This week, in a Democrat's debate, that nude centerfold was mentioned in a question to Warren.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN [DEBATE MODERATOR]: To help pay for his law school education, Scott Brown posed for Cosmo. How did you pay for your college education?

ELIZABETH WARREN: I kept my clothes on.

[LAUGHTER]

O'DONNELL: Brown's campaign says Warren's answer was offensive and an insult. On a Boston radio show Wednesday, the Senator jabbed back.

KEVIN KARLSON [BOSTON RADIO HOST]: Have you officially responded to Elizabeth Warren's comment about how she didn't take her clothes off?

BROWN [LAUGHING]: Thank God.

O'DONNELL: Some Democrats and women's groups angrily said Brown's comment was more suited to a quote, "frat house," and a dig at Warren's appearance. A race getting personal.

GLEN JOHNSON [THE BOSTON GLOBE]: I'm not sure that Elizabeth Warren's remark was entirely innocent but there's been a real sort of towel-snapping quality to Scott Brown's campaign so far.

O'DONNELL: Brown's upset victory last year to succeed Ted Kennedy stunned Democrats, who want desperately to knock him out in 2012. Warren, who worked for the Obama administration as a consumer watch dog, has never run for office before.

WARREN: I'm going to do this. I'm going to run for the United States Senate.

O'DONNELL: Brown's campaign has labeled Warren "elitist." He defended his '80s centerfold in that radio interview.

BROWN: Let them throw stones. I did what I had to do. But not for having that opportunity, I never would have been able to pay for school, and never would have gone to school.

O'DONNELL: Thursday, Warren brushed it off.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN B [BOSTON REPORTER]: You don't care to dive into those waters?

WARREN: I'll survive.

O'DONNELL: She says, "I'll survive." Well, there are six Democrats who are trying to win the nomination to challenge Scott Brown and Elizabeth Warren's just one of those. Now there were a couple of women in the Senate, Republicans, who did back up Scott Brown. Kelly Ayotte of New Hampshire and Susan Collins of Maine said that no one should make fun of how he had to pay for school because he had a humble background. Matt.

LAUER: Alright, Kelly O'Donnell following this story. Kelly, thank you very much.

Kyle Drennen
Kyle Drennen
Kyle Drennen is a News Analyst for MRC