If the Today show’s Matt Lauer was trying to make up for what was widely criticized as a softball interview with Donald Trump two months before Election Day at NBC’s Commander-in-Chief forum, he could have picked a better opening question.
“Last year, when Time did not choose you as Person of the Year and chose Angela Merkel, you said, ‘Time magazine will never pick me as Person of the Year,’” Lauer opened his phone interview with the president-elect Wednesday morning. “They proved you wrong. How do feel about this?
Over the course of their 11 minute phoner, Trump called the Time cover a “tremendous honor,” but also complained that he found the sub-headline—“President of the Divided States of America”—to be a bit “snarky,” adding, defensively, “I'm not president yet. So I didn't do anything to divide.”
Lauer also pressed Trump to explain his reported decision to give up all stock-holding back in June and his recent Twitter outburst against Boeing, but he reserved perhaps his toughest questions for a “lighter” topic: NBC’s own Saturday Night Live and Trump’s refusal to stop hate-tweeting about it.
In his first post-election interview with 60 Minutes’ Lesley Stahl, Trump said that if he tweets as president, he will be be “very restrained,” because, as Lauer falsely assumed on Wednesday, “You seem to understand that perhaps having fights on Twitter would not be appropriate for the president.”
But as Lauer pointed out, since Trump was elected he has lashed out at the cast of Broadway’s Hamilton, China, Boeing, The New York Times, and of course, SNL. “Is this proving to be a habit that you’re having a hard time breaking?” the host asked.
Trump insisted that he has been “very restrained” and has used the platform to talk about “important things” like China “building this massive military fortress in the middle of the South China Sea, which they’re not supposed to be doing,” among other issues.
“Frankly, it’s a modern day form of communication. Between Facebook and Twitter, I have, I guess, more than 40 million people,” Trump continued. “That’s a modern day form of communication. I get it out much faster than a press release. I get it out much more honestly than dealing with dishonest reporters because so many reporters are dishonest.”
This was when Lauer jumped in with his big question. “Can we agree, President-elect Trump, that at this stage it would be better for you to simply stop watching SNL, as opposed to watching it and then complaining about it?” he asked Trump.
Just this past Saturday, Trump tweeted during the NBC sketch show, “Just tried watching Saturday Night Live - unwatchable! Totally biased, not funny and the Baldwin impersonation just can't get any worse. Sad.” In the sketch that set him off, Baldwin’s Trump was too distracted by Twitter to focus on his security briefings.
Trump answered Lauer by saying that he hosted SNL when it was a “good show”—13 months ago—“but it’s not a good show anymore.” As Lauer jumped in with, “So why do you keep watching it?” he barrelled forward. “There’s nothing funny about it, the skits are terrible,” Trump said. As much as he “likes” Alec Baldwin, Trump said he finds the actor’s imitation of him “mean-spirited” and “not very good.”
“But you can’t bring yourself to stop watching it,” Lauer replied, exasperated.
“Frankly, the way the show is going now — and you look at the kind of work they’re doing — who knows how long that show is going to be on?” Trump wondered of a show that is currently in its 42nd season. “It’s a terrible show.”
If Trump is using his screeds against entertainment institutions like Hamilton and SNL to distract from thornier issues like the massive conflicts of interest that will likely plague his presidency, then he seems to be succeeding. While Lauer commended Trump for selling his stocks, he did not press the president-elect to explain how he plans to keep his much bigger business interests separate from his administration.
One person who sees through this game is Baldwin, who quickly replied to Trump’s Twitter tantrum on Saturday with this message: “Release your tax returns and I'll stop. Ha.”