I had forgotten all about Matt Lauer's nitpicky, sanctimonious interview of Hillary Clinton on the deck of an aircraft carrier for NBC's "Commander in Chief Forum" in September 2016.
As Clinton recounts in What Happened (which she reads from at the Paramount on December 11 and signs at Elliott Bay Book Company on December 12), Lauer began by asking about the most important characteristic a commander in chief can have. Clinton talked about steadiness. During her answer, Lauer cut in and said, "You're talking about judgment."
"That's not what I was talking about, exactly, but it was close enough," she writes. "I've been around the block enough times to know that something bad was coming. Lauer had the look of someone proud of himself for having laid a clever trap."
Lauer went on: "The word judgment has been used a lot around you, Secretary Clinton, over the last year and a half, and in particular concerning your use of your personal email and server to communicate while you were Secretary of State. You've said it's a mistake. You said you made not the best choice. You were communicating on highly sensitive topics. Why wasn't it more than a mistake? Why wasn't it disqualifying, if you want to be Commander in Chief?"
Lauer did not mention that Colin Powell had used a personal e-mail address while he was secretary of state (an AOL address, no less). He did not mention it was not against policy to do so, or that Clinton's personal e-mail had never been hacked, unlike the DNC's, the RNC's, and the federal government's.
But Lauer kept pressing. "Instead of moving on to any of a hundred urgent national security issues... Lauer stayed on emails. He asked four follow-ups." Then came a question from the audience, a question NBC had selected in advance. It was a right-winger asking why she wasn't in prison over her e-mails.
"Now I was ticked off," Clinton writes. "Lauer had turned what should have been a serious discussion into a pointless ambush." When her time was up, she watched Lauer "soft-pedal Trump's interview" and fail "to call Trump out on his lies about Iraq. I was almost physically sick."
What Happened is a book of boring sentences that nevertheless contains eye-opening details of what it was like being the first woman to get a major party's nomination. The preferential treatment of men in politics (and business, and life) is a recurrent theme. Now that we know that Lauer sexually harassed women behind the scenes at work, his over-the-top chastisement of Clinton in front of the cameras, especially compared to his treatment of the male chauvinist Republican candidate, has a whole new infuriating aspect.
Clinton says elsewhere that she never had a story of adversity to tell voters, the way Barack Obama and Bill Clinton had. But that's not true. She did have a story to tell—she just chose not to tell it. There's an anecdote about her slapping a blind date in college when he wouldn't take no for an answer. There's an anecdote about working for Jimmy Carter's campaign, when one night one of the older male organizers grabbed her by her turtleneck and pulled her toward him and hissed in her face, "Just shut up." These are not stories she told on the campaign trail.
When it comes to the history of women in this country, she writes, "I wish I had claimed it more publicly and told it more proudly." Me too. She essentially admits that she had left her most salient material out of her story. But you can find it in her book.