NBC's Lauer Suggests Obama, Climate Change for Time's 'Person of the Year'

At the end of an interview with Amazon.com CEO Jeff Bezos on Friday's NBC Today, co-host Matt Lauer wondered: "I think it was 1999, you were named Time magazine's Person of the Year, alright? So I was just actually on a panel the other day where they're trying to figure out 2012's Person of the Year. Who should it be?... it could be Barack Obama, it can be – I mean, there are a lot of candidates. Who do you think it should be?" [Listen to the audio or watch the video after the jump]

At first, Bezos dodged the question: "You have put me on the spot. I don't know." But he then agreed with Lauer's suggestion: "In an election year, you know, Obama would be a pretty good choice."

Obama's name was mentioned frequently during the Tuesday Time magazine panel discussion alluded to by Lauer. The panel was moderated by Time managing editor Rick Stengel, and beyond Lauer, included former House speaker and presidential candidate Newt Gingrich, actor Bryan Cranston, Top Chef host Padme Lakshmi, and Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter. Watch the exchange below:

For his part, Lauer actually argued against picking Obama at the time: "I don't pick Barack Obama this time, only because I think it was less about a resounding victory for Barack Obama and more about the demographics and the lack of confidence that some voters had in Mitt Romney."

However, Lauer did offer another liberal suggestion:

I think one of the things you could immediately look toward, and this is a little more esoteric, you could look at the climate. You could name the climate. You can – two words: Hurricane Sandy. You could look at the drought in the Midwest, you could look at the cold snap in Europe that claimed over 800 lives. You could talk to every person who deals with weather for a living and say – and they'll tell you that the storms are going to get more severe, that global warming is real, it's not a question of 'is it real' or 'isn't it real' anymore, it's a question of how bad will it get and how bad will it impact us. So there's something that's already impacted us this year and will impact us next year.

After discussing those two options, Lauer revealed his top choice for the honor:

I think the – the thing of the year is the unemployed American worker. And the reason I chose that is this, over the course of the last year, unemployment, jobs have dominated the political discussion. They had the complete attention of both parties going into the election. They dominated the focus of both candidates going into the election. They were the subject of every single rally and stump speech in every battleground state over the last twelve months.

An interesting pick, especially considering that a Time cover of the "unemployed American worker" would not exactly be helpful to the Obama administration.  


Here is a transcript of Lauer's November 16 exchange with Bezos on Today:

7:45AM ET

(...)

MATT LAUER: Let me put you on the spot a little bit. I think it was 1999, you were named Time magazine's Person of the Year, alright? So I was just actually on a panel the other day where they're trying to figure out 2012's Person of the Year. Who should it be?

JEFF BEZOS [CEO, AMAZON.COM]: Oh, my goodness. That's way too hard of a question for me.

LAUER: Come on, give it a shot.

BEZOS [LAUGHS]: Matt Lauer.

LAUER: No, no, is it – it could be Barack Obama, it can be – I mean, there are a lot of candidates. Who do you think it should be?

BEZOS: You know, I – you have put me on the spot. I don't know.

LAUER: No clue? Alright, well, think about it and get back to us.

BEZOS: In an election year, you know, Obama would be a pretty good choice.

(...)

Here is a transcript of Lauer's comments on the November 13 Time panel:

(...)

MATT LAUER: I think if – I think one of the things you could immediately look toward, and this is a little more esoteric, you could look at the climate. You could name the climate. You can – two words: Hurricane Sandy. You could look at the drought in the Midwest, you could look at the cold snap in Europe that claimed over 800 lives. You could talk to every person who deals with weather for a living and say – and they'll tell you that the storms are going to get more severe, that global warming is real, it's not a question of 'is it real' or 'isn't it real' anymore, it's a question of how bad will it get and how bad will it impact us. So there's something that's already impacted us this year and will impact us next year.

My reason for not going with President Obama is this, and it's something that you said Newt [Gingrich] actually, it's that [Philadelphia] Mayor [Michael] Nutter and others put together an enormous effort to get out the vote. I don't think it was about Barack Obama this time, as much as it was about a demographic shift in this country, that worked against the Republican Party in general.

And I think, anecdotally. I went and I stood for an hour and fifteen minutes at Hunter College to vote on election day in the cold, and there was a guy standing behind me and he didn't speak to me while we were on line, but as we were leaving the polling place, we were walking in the same direction, he pulled aside. He said, "I'm not going to ask you who you voted for, but let me just tell you what happened to me just now." He said, "I voted for Barack Obama in 2008, I was swept away by him. I was disappointed with him over the last four years, in particular over the last year and a half, and I kept an open mind. But when I got to the polling place and I was marking my ballot, the thing that struck me was I couldn't get my arms around Mitt Romney. I wasn't 100% percent sure of where he stood and where he will stand."

So I don't pick Barack Obama this time, only because I think it was less about a resounding victory for Barack Obama and more about the demographics and the lack of confidence that some voters had in Mitt Romney.

I think the – the thing of the year is the unemployed American worker. And the reason I chose that is this, over the course of the last year, unemployment, jobs have dominated the political discussion. They had the complete attention of both parties going into the election. They dominated the focus of both candidates going into the election. They were the subject of every single rally and stump speech in every battleground state over the last twelve months.

And then if you want that idea of will they impact this country going forward, just about every single aspect on the President's domestic agenda will deal with unemployment and that group of unemployed voters, workers.

You could also look back and say, "Look how breathlessly we awaited the unemployment numbers over the last three months, when they would come out on that first Friday of each month. And when they finally did come out and show growth that brought that rate just below eight percent, a lot of people said that's what secured the election for Barack Obama. And the fact that they will – when we look at the fiscal cliff and the debate coming up, what it might boil down to is a balance between tax increases and spending cuts that will not add substantially to that group of unemployed workers. So I go with the unemployed American worker.

(...)

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