Give Matt Lauer and Meredith Vieira credit. On this morning's "Today," Lauer suggested to his boss's face that in firing Don Imus he had caved to pressure from advertisers and people like Al Sharpton. And Vieira held Al Sharpton's feet to the fire, now that he had Imus' scalp, about going after rappers and others who use similar language every day.
Here's part of the exchange, which came at 7:05 AM EDT, between Lauer and NBC News President Steve Capus:
View video of Lauer-Capus interview here.
CAPUS: This one went so far over the line, Matt, that it was time.
LAUER: But the timing, the timing. You really don't have to try too hard to think that NBC News caved to the pressure from advertisers like Proctor & Gamble and GM and others and perhaps caved to pressure from people like Reverend Sharpton, who we'll talk to in just a second.
CAPUS: There was all kinds of voices raised all across the country; a nerve was touched. Advertisers, people on the outside. But the voices that I heard loudest were the people that work for us at NBC News [note: "Today" weatherman Al Roker was one who publicly called for Imus' firing].
LAUER: Here's what you said: "I believe Imus took some smart and courageous actions. The fact that he sat down with the Reverend Al Sharpton and listened -- I wanted that process to continue and while that was happening we were having our own discussions on 'Today' and MSNBC and 'Nightly News' and throughout the country on race relations. What has been going on is a lot of listening and talking." So, if Imus took some courageous actions, was smart about it, if the listening and talking continued, why put a period on it right now if not for pressure from advertisers?
CAPUS: I'll expand the question to say why do you have an integrity policy if you're not going to enforce it? And that's what I heard from the people who work for us over and over again. And it was time to look at the body of work. And he has done some great work but he's also done some things nobody's proud of. And this one went so far over the line.
LAUER: I received a lot of emails, as we all have, over these last several days, and some of the people who emailed me said they think perhaps NBC listened to the loudest voices here [at NBC]. That perhaps the people who supported Don Imus remained quiet, especially after they thought the punishment had been doled out -- the two week suspension.
Sounds like Matt and Al Roker might be at odds over this one. In any case, it was not just Lauer's words, it was his tone and the manner in which he interjected his comments that were striking. This was anything but a fawning employee seeking to ingratiate himself with his boss. Kudos.
Meredith Vieira then took a similarly tough tone with Al Sharpton.
SHARPTON: It has to start with a standard of government-regulated broadcasting.
VIEIRA: Let's talk about accountability, sir. Because when you had Imus on your show on Monday you brought your daughter out at one point, and this really resonated with me because I have a daughter. And you asked him to look at your daughter and you said "this is not a ho. This is my daughter." A lot of people around the country understood what you were saying because so many young ladies and young men, every day on the airwaves are exposed to ugly language: to the n-word, to the b-word, to the word 'ho,' much of it orginated in the black community with rap music, with hip-hop music, as you have acknowledged. What are you going to do now to immediately stop that filth that is coming over the airwaves in the way you've tried to stop Don Imus?
When Sharpton claimed that he and Jesse Jackson's group have been trying to deal with the issue, Vieira interjected: "But it's all over the place. What have you done?"
SHARPTON: The music industry heads, many of whom have nothing to do with the black community but make the profits from this.
What's Sharpton's point? That he wouldn't mind so much if the people profiting from the degradation were themselves black?
VIEIRA: Do you agree there has been a double standard, sir?
SHARPTON: No, there has not been a double standard. These young people do not go on regulated radio as hosts, as Imus.
VIEIRA: They're all over the radio; they're all over television.
SHARPTON: They're over radio as commercial artists that these companies are putting on. They don't work for the radio companies. Imus did.
VIEIRA: But they spread the message. And it permeates through society.
View video of Vieira-Sharpton interview here.
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