Why Are These Two Men Still Talking?

This morning, Terry McAuliffe and Ken Mehlman squared off on the Today Show. Again.

As predicted back on October 25, we had not then seen the last of McAuliffe v. Mehlman (in which television news producers invite the former head of the Democratic National Committee — Terry McAuliffe —and the current head of the Republican National Committee — Ken Mehlman — on-air to “educate” viewers one talking point at a time on all things Election Day.)

This morning, NBC’s Today Show aired a re-match of its October 25th bout, this one overseen by anchor Matt Lauer.

Said Lauer, by way of introducing (explaining away?) McAuliffe v. Mehlman, Part Deux: “Let’s get the view from both sides.” (In other words, we’ll do our part by giving you the he-said and the she-said and let you, the viewers, sort through the talking points).

Lauer barreled through his list of faux tough-guy questions, hardly seeming to notice or care that not one of his questions was directly answered (perhaps Lauer is beyond expecting that sort of thing). Of McAuliffe, Lauer asked, “Depending on who you listen to Democrats are either over-confident and giddy or scared to death that Santa isn’t going to show up at all. How do you feel this morning?” Shockingly, McAuliffe wouldn’t cop to being either “over-confident” or “scared to death” — preferring, instead, to stick with the script that “it’s going to be a big day for the Democrats.” Lauer’s companion “either/or” question for Mehlman? “Is it the day of reckoning for the Republicans or will you steal the candy out of the mouths of Democrats?” Mehlman’s answer consisted of “encourag[ing] everyone to vote” and firing off multiple multi-pronged Republican talking points featuring words like “surge,” “choice,” “Patriot Act” and “taxes go[ing] up.”

We’ll say it again: don’t have these guys on your television news program. It does nothing for viewers.

But, should your producer go ahead and book for you a McAuliffe v. Mehlman-style segment, at least call your guests on their self-promotional, question-dodging replies as CNN’s Soledad O’Brien attempted to do this morning when her network aired its own prize fight — (Howard) Dean v. Mehlman (mercifully presented as two separate back-to-back interviews, thereby minimizing talking point cross-shouting).

Rather than rushing through a list of tough-sounding questions (follow-up free!) à la Lauer, O’Brien dared to interrupt both Mehlman and Dean (more than once), trying in vain to refocus them/reign them in. (“Yes, but, Ken let me stop you there because actually that wasn’t the question, so let me just kind of get back on track.” And, “I’m going to stop you [Howard Dean]there because while I appreciate that sort of lengthy answer, [it has] nothing to do with the question I asked, which was this…”)

And yet, you’re still going to get the same pat answers and party plugs from the Mehlmans and McAuliffes of the world, whether you actually try to be a journalist or are content to just play one on TV (the difference, in this case, between O’Brien and Lauer).

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Liz Cox Barrett is a writer at CJR.