On Wednesday’s Today show, NBC News principals Matt Lauer, Meredith Vieira, and Tom Brokaw all gushed over Hillary Clinton’s testimony in front of a Senate panel for her confirmation as Secretary of State. During an interview of Senator John Kerry, Lauer asked, “Did you see any area, Senator, where she didn’t show, I guess, a complete mastery of the issues?” In the following segment, Vieira and Brokaw lauded how “smart and well-prepared” the former First Lady appeared to be. “She’s the kind of woman I would like to sit next to in class,” Brokaw indicated. “She’s so smart,” Vieira added.
The NBC morning program’s coverage of Clinton’s hearing in front of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee began with correspondent Andrea Mitchell briefly mentioning during a report that the “only controversy [was] over possible conflicts of interest with foreign donors to her husband’s charities.” This was followed by a clip where Republican Senator Richard Lugar raised the issue and the outgoing New York Senator responded to his point. Mitchell concluded her report by stating that “no one questioned Bill Clinton’s good works -- only the possibility of undo foreign influence on his wife. Clinton says that she and her husband are already doing more than the ethics rules or the law require, and support for her confirmation is so overwhelming that her senate colleagues are holding a farewell party for her today.”
Lauer’s interview of Kerry, which began nine minutes into the 7 am Eastern hour of the NBC program, immediately followed Mitchell’s report. After congratulating the Massachusetts Democrat for becoming the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, the NBC co-host led by summing up Clinton’s testimony and asking his “mastery” question:
LAUER: ...She talked about the re-emergence of diplomacy as a central tenet in U.S. foreign policy; about not giving up hope on peace in the Middle East; about the possibility, as we just heard, of direct engagement with Iran. Did you see any area, Senator, where she didn’t show, I guess, a complete mastery of the issues?
KERRY: No, I think she did a terrific job, as I think she will do as secretary of state. She clearly demonstrated a different path from the past administration in terms of engagement with Iran. I think even talking about how they’re going to walk a line in the Middle East as an honest broker in the effort to end the violence. I thought it was -- it was a very strong performance, and we anticipate voting her out of the committee tomorrow and trying to get a vote as soon as we can.
Lauer followed up by asking Kerry, “It was called a love fest by some people, and one of the local newspapers here in New York said nothing but softballs from the senators. I mean, has she been questioned harshly enough or thoroughly enough to make -- to take on this number one role in diplomacy for the U.S.?”
Later, during Vieira’s conversation with Brokaw, which followed the Kerry interview, the NBC co-host asked the former Nightly News anchor what his impression was of Clinton’s testimony. Brokaw gushed, “Well, it's often my impression when I listen to her -- she's the kind of woman I would like to sit next to in class.” Vieira replied, “She’s so smart.” Brokaw agreed with her point and expanded on it.
BROKAW: She is -- smart and well prepared. She’s -- within her staff, it’s legendary -- her preparation, and I think she was sending a strong signal to the world that we’re open for business again, in terms of dealing in diplomatic ways with some of our most vigorous adversaries, obviously. She’s going to breeze through there. With that little dust-up about Bill Clinton’s foundation -- both Democrats and Republicans thought that that should be raised, but she’s going to get there. The important thing is for everyone to understand, this is all pre-game. This is the kind of game plan that everybody’s putting in place. When they take office and bump up against these objective difficulties that we face around the world, that's the real test of an administration.
VIEIRA: But what about -- what about the criticisms that Matt brought up by some, that they were just kind of, sort of throwing her softballs?
BROKAW: Well, I -- look, I think that we’ve seen that. But you have to remember eight years ago, when it was Don Rumsfeld, Colin Powell, and Dick Cheney -- everybody said that's the ‘A Team’ and they breezed through pretty quickly as well. And what they -- what you try to do in a confirmation hearing -- if you don’t have something that can bring them down, is to get, as we did yesterday, a big picture of where this administration wants to go and how it wants to get there. They did raise, obviously, the possibility of the conflict of interest because of her husband’s foundation. But beyond that, there were not a lot of other places for them to go. This is the -- she gave an expression of what Obama has been talking about for more than a year now, about how he would change his diplomacy, and the president has a right to name a secretary of state and to construct a foreign policy that he believes is in the best interests of the country, and it’s the one that the country voted for.
Despite Brokaw’s characterization that top Bush administration officials “breezed through” their Senate confirmation hearings, the mainstream media, and the Today show in particular, was a lot tougher on the pick of Condoleezza Rice as Bush’s second Secretary of State. During a promo, then-anchor Katie Couric referred to the former Stanford professor as “fried Rice,” and the show went out of its way to try to portray her as “angry.”
Brokaw also only briefly touched on the "possible conflicts of interest with foreign donors to her husband’s charities," which Mitchell had brought up in the earlier segment. This was the only time that the issue came up at all during both interview segments.