Matt Lauer's value to NBC is evident

Matt Lauer interviews Steve Capus, right, president of NBC News, about radio personality Don Imus in New York on April 12.

The Associated Press
Published: Tuesday, May 1, 2007 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Monday, April 30, 2007 at 10:12 p.m.

NEW YORK - Matt Lauer is sent packing this week on another one of those round-the-world mystery jaunts for "Today,'' the kind that has probably earned him enough frequent flier miles to get to the moon for free.

Some of his work during the past few weeks on stories closer to home - much closer - better illustrate his value to NBC News.

In the midst of Don Imus' career implosion over his remark about the Rutgers women's basketball team, Lauer so adroitly handled an on-camera interview with his own boss at NBC News that it impressed a former competitor watching at home.

With his news organization again in the news a week later, Lauer and partner Meredith Vieira bluntly discussed NBC's role in disseminating pictures sent by Virginia Tech gunman Seung-Hui Cho and the reaction against that decision.

The Imus controversy was the nation's biggest story for a week and it directly involved NBC News because MSNBC simulcast the radio star's show. Lauer spoke to Imus and his chief critic, the Rev. Al Sharpton, together on the April 10 show, and for most TV hosts merely preventing a shouting match would have been an achievement. Lauer kept in firm control and got pointed questions in to both men.

To Imus, who still had his job at that point, he asked: "If you didn't immediately understand how deplorable the comments were of last week, how can you be trusted to clean up your own act or censor yourself down the road in the future?''

He asked Sharpton, a minister, how the Biblical concept of forgiveness applied to Imus. "Can he only be forgiven,'' he said, "if he's unemployed?''

Two days later, he interviewed NBC News President Steve Capus about the decision to end the MSNBC simulcast. There was no friendly banter. Lauer pressed Capus about the timing of the firing, staying on him when the question was ducked. He forced Capus to respond to the idea that NBC was caving to pressure from advertisers and some of the loudest voices.

It was direct, sharp and to the point.

"When you put the boss on television, it typically sounds like you're interviewing the boss,'' said Ben Sherwood, former executive producer of ABC's "Good Morning America.'' "I think Matt treated it like he was interviewing a newsmaker. He showed the curiosity and toughness that he would with any newsmaker.''

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