NBC's Lauer Prompted Obama's Use of the 'A' Word

In teasing the more emotional portion of Matt Lauer's exclusive Today show interview with Barack Obama, in which he blurted that he needed to "know whose ass to kick" over the oil spill in the Gulf, NBC's Brian Williams, on Monday's NBC Nightly News, left the impression that the President was finally showing "some anger." Something, as the MRC's Brent Baker pointed out, liberals had been pushing the President to do for some time. However what Williams failed to point out was that outburst and even the President's use of colorful language was prompted by Lauer's question, as he asked if it was time to "kick some butt," as seen in the following exchange:

MATT LAUER: Critics are now talking about your style which is the first time I've heard that in a long time. And they're saying here is a guy who likes to be known as cool and calm and collected, and this isn't the time for cool, calm and collected.


LAUER: That this is not the time to meet with experts and advisors, this is a time to spend more time in the Gulf and - I never thought I'd say this to a president - but kick some butt. And, and I don't mean it to be funny.

OBAMA: No, and I understand. And, and here's what, I'm going to push back hard on this. Because I think that this is a - just a, an idea that got in folks' heads. And the media's run with it. I was down there, a month ago before most of these talking heads were even paying attention to the Gulf. A month ago I was meeting with fishermen down there standing in the rain talking about what a potential crisis this could be. And I don't sit around just talking to experts because this is a college seminar. We talk to these folks because they potentially had the best answers so I know whose ass to kick. Right? So, you know, this is not theater. Most of the decisions that I make on a day to day basis I make because I have gathered the best information possible in very difficult situations and my job is to figure out how can I move the federal government, the private sector, all the various players who are involved to perform some very, very difficult tasks. And I don't always have time to perform for the benefit of the cable shows. What I do have is dedication and commitment to make sure that the people who are actually being affected by this are going to get the best possible service from me. And as long as I'm President, that's the approach that I'm going to take to this job. [audio available here]

Contrary to the perception left by Williams that the President was showing anger on his own initiative, it was actually just him responding to Lauer's prodding. Something that was evident when Lauer, in making a bit of news, got the President to admit he hadn't even talked to the CEO of BP, as seen in this exchange from the full interview as it was aired on the June 8 Today show:

LAUER: Have you spoken directly to Tony Hayward, the CEO of BP?

OBAMA: I have not spoken to him directly and, and here's the reason. Because my experience is when you talk to a guy like BP's CEO, he's going to say all the right things to me. I'm not interested in words. I'm interested in actions. And, and, and, and we are communicating to him every single day exactly what we expect of him and what we expect of that administration.

LAUER: In all due respect, that feels strange to me. That here we got the CEO of a company that's responsible for the, the, the worst environmental disaster in U.S. history and, and I think I'm just curious why you didn't pick up, you wouldn't pick up the phone and in some ways just give him a piece of your mind.

OBAMA: Well the, look, this, this has sort of, this has been the main critique of the administration is giving a piece of my mind to these guys. Look, I would love to vent. I would love to, to just shout and holler because I'm thinking about this day in, day out. But my main job is to solve the problem.

LAUER: To solve the problem you have to have a reliable partner. Let me read you some of the things that Mr. Hayward has said over the course of this disaster. He said, "The Gulf of Mexico is a big ocean. The amount and volume of oil and dispersant we're putting into it is tiny in relation to the total water value. The environmental impact of this disaster is likely to be very, very modest." And then he said "There's no one who wants this to end more than I do, I'd like my life back."

OBAMA: Yeah well the, I think-

LAUER: The family members of those 11 people who died on the rig and the people whose lives are going to be changed for years want their lives back, too. He doesn't work for you, but if he did, would you want him out?

OBAMA: He wouldn't be working for me, after any of those statements. First of all, we're gonna have to find out why this thing went in the first place and, and, and the fact of the matter is that there's going to be a thorough review and I don't want to prejudge it. But the initial reports indicate that there may be situations in which not only human error was involved, but you also saw some corner-cutting in terms of safety and that BP is a multi-billion dollar corporation that's talking about paying $10.5 billion in dividends just for this quarter.

Williams wasn't the only one highlighting Obama's so-called angry response, as both Lauer and fellow Today anchor Meredith Vieira got caught up in the hype that, it turns out, Lauer himself had a hand in creating as seen in their teaser and then post-interview analysis:

MEREDITH VIEIRA: Good morning, Today exclusive. President Obama lashes out at BP and his critics over the disaster in the Gulf.

BARACK OBAMA: I don't sit around just talking to experts because this is a college seminar. We talk to these folks because they potentially have the best answers, so I know whose ass to kick.

VIEIRA: This morning, President Obama upset and uncensored.


LAUER: And wow, President Obama did not hold back in our exclusive interview which was conducted in Michigan on Monday afternoon. He's frustrated, he's angry, not only because of the oil that is still spewing into the sea and the resulting environmental disaster, but also at how his handling of this crisis is being judged by critics. Has his administration done enough? Will it become President Obama's Hurricane Katrina or Iran hostage situation? And why hasn't the President spoken directly to Tony Hayward who is the CEO of BP? President Obama speaks on all of that in a very candid interview in just a couple of minutes.


LAUER AFTER THE INTERVIEW: He's clearly heard the criticism and-

VIEIRA: Well yeah and frustrated by it, as well.

LAUER: -and reacting very strongly to it. And, and, and trying to say that this, you know I think his, his term "this is not theater" is-

VIEIRA: Right.

LAUER: -a very important one. And, and I wonder if you're gonna hear a lot more of this type of emotion from the President, from this day forward?

VIEIRA: Well I think he probably liked this opportunity to show that side of him because so many people had said that, in fact, he wasn't showing any emotion. And obviously it bothers him tremendously.

-Geoffrey Dickens is the Senior News Analyst at the Media Research Center. You can follow him on Twitter here