“Matt [Lauer] did a tremendous job,” said Andy Lack, ABC’s News Chief, last week.
A tremendous job of what? Constant interruptions to Hillary Clinton? A tremendous job of craven questions to Donald Trump? This should have been an opportunity to host what Lack described as “one of the most serious discussions to date”, but instead turned out to be blatant gender bias, from Lack’s long-time colleague, talk show host Matt Lauer.
I did watch this “commander-in-chief forum” in which Lauer demonstrated ‘manterrupting’, (or the gender neutral, talk blocking) in HD colour. Much more blatant than Kanye’s grandstanding of Taylor Swift, he repeatedly interrupted Clinton, and somehow morphed into Casper Milquetoast when addressing Trump.
Trump’s audacious lie about criticising the US invasion of Iraq went undisputed, reflecting Lauer’s lack of journalistic teeth. Trump’s repetition lulled him to a semi-catatonic state, but was awake enough to drill Hillary on emails and, of course, repeatedly interrupt. At one point she turned to ask him to let her finish her thought.
Adam Grant and Sheryl Sandberg recently wrote on how male US senators speak more than their female counterpoints, and are ‘’deemed more competent.” Extensive research indicates that at work, “women speak less, are interrupted more, and have their ideas more harshly scrutinised.”
We’ve witnessed the same thing throughout this campaign. Hillary is chastised for not speaking more in public. Donald’s repetitiveness garners more airtime. Lack is riveted with ratings. Some NBC executives spoke anonymously afterward, politely calling Lauer’s performance less than stellar.
Lack, however, did a “Trump”, stating that “ nearly 15 million people watched the event, and over 26 million tuned in at some point during the hour.” No reflective comment on what could have been done differently, just the same sort of pugilistic oratory we’ve gotten used to hearing. Using the Kardashian/Trump playbook, NBC is driven by rating rather than substance, gladiatoral entertainment over content or thought.
The NBC broadcast and subsequent comments provided us all a vivid demonstration of biases. This is what women face at work. In talent planning meetings. In promotions. In leadership selection.
There is “similarity bias”; gravitating to what and whom we know and like Lack and Lauer have known one another since Lack’s first stint at running the network in 1997.
Next is “confirmation bias”. Lauer nitpicked Clinton on details in order to confirm his existing belief, and interrupting any contradictions. He did not allow a conversational pattern to evolve, but rather used snippets of information to support his bias. It showed.
Then we have “normalcy bias.” Lauer simplified his data with Trump to make it easier to understand. Normalcy bias is the state we enter when facing disaster, a common response when people fail to adequately prepare.
NBC’s presidential forum was not a debate between two candidates, but a live display of many of the biases women face at work every day.