Lauer Challenges Uncle's Call for $100 Million Ransom for Kidnapped Soldiers

For a TV host, there's nothing much more difficult than interviewing a family member of someone who has been killed or seriously harmed. So when the uncle of one of the US soldiers kidnapped and killed in Iraq called for the offering of a massive ransom and a prisoner exchange, give Matt Lauer credit for having had the courage to challenge him.

Here's how it went down.

Lauer was interviewing Ken MacKenzie, a well-spoken, well-informed uncle to PFC Kristian Menchaca. Asked Lauer:

"A group linked to al-Qaeda on its website has claimed that they actually took Kristian and another soldier. What's your reaction to that?"

Replied MacKenzie::

"My reaction is the United States government should have immediately notified these Shura Council mujahadeen that the United States government was offering a $100-million reward and offering to exchange the 2,500 mujahadeen detainees that Prime Minister al-Maliki of Iraq plans to release several weeks from now. I think the U.S. government was too slow to react to this, they should have had a plan in place. Because the U.S. government did not have a plan in place, my nephew has paid for it with his life."

Lauer:

"Let me just interrupt for a second. Obviously the U.S. has a policy of not negotiating with terrorists. We do have reports that up to 8,000 troops, U.S. and Iraqis, are out searching for your nephew and also reward money is being offered in Baghdad or in the area for any information leading to the finding of your nephew. Are you suggesting that you think the U.S. government should pay a ransom?"

MacKenzie didn't mince words:

"Yes. The ransom is available from Saddam Hussein's Ba'ath party funds seized by the U.S. government. More than $100 billion in cash and gold, that the U.S. government apparently had plans to return to the government of Iraq. I would think that that money, part of it, could be used to pay ransom. That would not be coming out of U.S. taxpayer pockets, by the way. It could be paid out of the bank account where it now reposes. I think that that money should have been earmarked for this type of a hostage situation."

Lauer again challenged the suggestion:

"Mr. MacKenzie, obviously you are dealing with this as a personal and a family tragedy. I can certainly understand that, but wouldn't that then make it very profitable for terrorists in Iraq and other parts of the world to kidnap westerners because they could reap huge amounts of money from it?"
MacKenzie:

"Yes, but they are doing that anyway. I don't know if that would escalate or encourage them to kidnap more westerners and more U.S. soldiers. But I rather doubt it. My concern is the humanitarian concern. This money will be used of course by whoever's going to use it in the future and it won't go toward saving lives. I am more interested -- was more interested in seeing my nephew saved with some combination of ransom and prisoner exchange. Apparently the Prime Minister of Iraq planned to release these 2,500 mujahadeen without any so-called quid pro quo, something for something."

Lauer: "I'm sorry. Mr. MacKenzie, I'm sorry to interrupt. And I want to mention again there are some conflicting reports coming out of Baghdad. Our thoughts and prayers are with you and your family. We hope for a good outcome."

MacKenzie: "Thank you very much."

For all the criticism this column levels at the MSM in general and the Today show in particular, we're obliged to applaud Lauer for his courage in sensitive circumstances in standing up, politely but firmly, for a U.S. policy designed to prevent the taking of even more hostages.

Idle Speculation Department: This is the second time in a week Matt has manifested 'fair & balanced' tendencies, and temporary co-host Campbell Brown was also recently sighted giving Howard Dean a rough go. At the same time, as Noel Sheppard reports, the Today show's ratings have been climbing. Coincidence, or viewers responding to a less-biased, post-Katie Today?

Finkelstein lives in the liberal haven of Ithaca, NY, where he hosts the award-winning public-access TV show 'Right Angle.' Contact him at mark@gunhill.net

Mark Finkelstein
Mark Finkelstein is a contributing editor for NewsBusters.