Matt Lauer Lets Obama Claim He Didn't Run Negative Ad Campaign in 2008

As NewsBusters has been reporting, NBC's Matt Lauer had an interview with President Obama on Super Bowl Sunday that was as soft as cream cheese that's been sitting in the sun for hours.

One such sickeningly squishy moment was when the Today show host let his guest get away with claiming he "ran an affirmative campaign" in 2008 without negative attack ads (video follows with transcript and commentary):

MATT LAUER, HOST: This idea being able to reach out and connect to the middle class and having the middle class reach out to a political candidate.

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: Right.

LAUER: On Friday you held a fundraiser.

Pres. OBAMA: Right.

LAUER: You raised $900,000 in a couple of hours. I think 25 wealthy individuals paid $36,000 apiece to spend a couple of hours with you.

Pres. OBAMA: Yeah.

LAUER: How do you think the guy sitting, drinking a beer and eating chips watching the game today can identify with something like that?

Pres. OBAMA: Right. Well, I think, Matt, if you--if you noticed about a month and a half ago, I also had lunch with five folks who had given 25 bucks each who were part of this huge base of supporters that we have all across the country. And it's precisely because we've been able to create a grassroots movement that I was successful in 2008 and I think will be successful this time. Now if you ask me would I love to take some of the big money out of politics? I would. Unfortunately, right now, partly because of Supreme Court rulings and a bunch of decisions out there...

LAUER: Right.

Pres. OBAMA: ...it is very hard to be able to get your message out without having some resources.

LAUER: Maybe the better question is how will you spend the money? By all accounts you can raise a lot of money for this campaign. Some people say up to a billion dollars. We've just seen in Florida on the Republican side a lot of money spent, about 100 percent of it spent on extremely negative personal ads. If you raise a billion dollars to keep this job, can we expect the same kind of negativity coming from that money?

Pres. OBAMA: What I can tell you is in 2008, part of the reason that we were successful is we ran an affirmative campaign about my vision for where the United States should go. And I think what Americans want to hear more than anything else is how are you going to help me right now? If they're hearing a persuasive argument about how we are going to recreate a solid path for middle class success in this country, then I think I'll win regardless of the negative ads coming in.

LAUER: Then to that end, and this may sound like a bit Pollyanna, Mr. President.

Pres. OBAMA: Right.

LAUER: But when a Republican nominee is chosen...

Pres. OBAMA: Hm.

LAUER: ...would you agree to meeting with that person, whether it's Governor Romney or Speaker Gingrich or whoever, and getting together with that person and talking about how the two of you plan to conduct yourselves over the course of this campaign? I think the American people would like that. Would you agree to that?

Pres. OBAMA: You know, I think that you'll be able to see how we conduct ourselves in the campaign. I think it'll be consistent with how I conducted myself in 2008 and hopefully how I've conducted myself as president of the United States. One of the worries we have, obviously, in the next campaign, is that there are so many of these so-called super PACs, these independent expenditures that are going to be out there, there's going to be just a lot of money floating around. And I guarantee you a bunch of that's going to be negative. But it's not going to be enough just to say, `The other guy's a bum,' you've got to explain to the American people what your plan is to make sure that there are good jobs at good wages and that this economy is growing over the long term. And whoever wins that argument I think is going to be the next president.

If Lauer were really concerned with the President running a positive campaign without attack ads, he could have brought up a study reported by Science Daily days before the 2008 elections:

The 2008 presidential campaign, as reflected in candidates' television spots, has been one of the most negative campaigns in history. A University of Missouri professor analyzed this year's candidates' television spots, including last night's 30-minute ad by Sen. Barack Obama and found that only one other campaign matched this level of negativity.

William Benoit, professor of communication in the College of Arts and Science, found that in television spots from 1952-2004, candidates averaged 40 percent attacks in their ad statements. In this year's race, the statements in Obama's ads were 68 percent negative compared to 62 percent for Sen. John McCain.

"The only campaign in history that matches this level of negativity was in the first ever presidential TV spot campaign when Dwight Eisenhower had negative attacks in 69 percent of his ad statements," Benoit said.


Since Obama spent more money in 2008 than any other presidential candidate in American history, this means he spent more money on attack ads as well. In fact, nobody's close.

While Lauer made a point about such ads, and tried to get Obama to sit down with whoever his opponent is going to be and "[talk] about how the two of you plan to conduct yourselves over the course of this campaign," maybe he could have brought actual statistics into the equation to refute the President's contention that he "ran an affirmative campaign" in 2008.

Not surprisingly, that didn't happen because the Today show host quickly changed the subject:

LAUER: Which leads me well into this next question because I have talked to so many people over the last couple of years, President Obama, who were huge supporters of yours back in 2008.

Pres. OBAMA: Right.

LAUER: And today they're not sure.

The moral of the story is that negative ads will once again be a press focus during this campaign.

But much as they did in 2008, the Obama-loving media will do everything in their power to shield the current White House resident from any criticism regarding his paid attacks while constantly carping and whining about what his opponent is doing.

Nice job, Matt. That's some fine journalism there.

For more examples of Lauer's mastery, please see NBC's Lauer to Obama: Can Mitt Romney 'Identify With the Middle Class?' and NBC's Lauer Chats With Obama About GOP Candidates 'Pummeling Each Other': 'Does This Help You?'

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Noel Sheppard
Noel Sheppard
Noel Sheppard, Associate Editor of NewsBusters, passed away in March of 2014.