Compliant Lauer Feeds Hillary Softballs on Katrina: Was Witt Right in Bashing W's FEMA?

<p>When Matt Lauer eventually leaves the Today show, he can look forward to a career in slow-pitch softball. His talents were on full display this morning in his interview of Hillary Clinton.</p><p>The conventions of good journalism dictate that when guests, particularly intrinisically political ones, are interviewed, they are challenged on their assumptions.</p><p>But when Today's Matt Lauer interviewed Hillary Clinton this morning, what seemed at first to be a lead-up to such a challenge turned out in fact to be just the opposite, as Lauer handed Hillary yet another club with which to bash the Bush administration.</p><p>Lauer began by reading from Hillary's letter criticizing the federal response in general and FEMA in particular. </p><p>You might have thought that Lauer would have raised the issue of incompetence at the state and local [read Democratic] levels. But no, Lauer entirely bought into Hillary's logic, lamely inquiring whether Her Hilllaryness felt &quot;this was a problem with an entire [federal] system, or did some key individuals make poor decisions?&quot; </p><p>The notion that the federal response has actually been fairly decent under the unprecedented circumstances was never even contemplated.</p><p>Nor did Lauer challenge Hillary when she claimed that by declaring a state of emergency prior to the storm hitting, the Bush administration assumed the lead responsibility for dealing with the storm, thus ignoring Gov. Blanco's delay of a crucial 24 hours in responding to Pres. Bush's offer of aid.<br /> </p><p>Then came the crucial moment. As Hillary pontificated on regarding her proposal for a Katrina Commission, Lauer interrupted, saying he wanted to ask her to comment on something former Clinton administration FEMA Director James Lee Witt had written. </p><p>My reporter's antennae went up, thinking this would be where Lauer would challenge Hillary with a contradictory statement, and one having that much more credibility coming from one of Hillary's own.</p><p>Au contraire! Lauer served up this steaming softball of an excerpt from a Witt letter written before Katrina: &quot;I'm extremely concerned that the ability of our nation to prepare for and respond to disasters has been sharply eroded . . . and that the FEMA [local officials] knew and worked well with has disappeared.&quot;</p><p>And rather than questioning the veracity of Witt's allegation, Lauer again entirely bought into them, asking Hillary why &quot;the capabilities of FEMA had been diminished.&quot;</p><p>Of course Hillary was only too happy to oblige with a paean to the wonderful way FEMA was administered when she and Bill were in charge and lamenting how things have fallen apart under W.</p><p>Lauer did ultimately get around to quoting to Hillary from RNC Chairman Ken Mehlman thusly: &quot;you tell me who's taking what should be a moment of national unity and trying to score politically.&quot;</p><p>A woe-is-me Hillary complained that &quot;that's what they always do. I've been living with that for the last four-and-a-half years.&quot;</p><p>Don't worry, Hillary. Matt and friends will be there for you when those mean Republicans attack.</p><p><i>Finkelstein has degrees from Cornell University and Harvard Law<br />School.He lives in Ithaca, NY where he hosts &quot;Right Angle,&quot; a local<br />political talk show. Finkelstein specializes in exposing liberal bias<br />at NBC's Today</i><i> Show.</i></p><div class="node"><div class="entry"><p><i><img hspace="0" border="0" src="" /></i></p></div></div><p /><p /><p /><p /><p />

Mark Finkelstein
Mark Finkelstein is a contributing editor for NewsBusters.