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My Turn
Other Views from Those in the Know
Bob Sanchez
Policy Director, James Madison Institute
Nice Work, If You Can Get It

I never complain about the big paychecks earned by successful people, whether they're business leaders, college presidents, entertainers, or star athletes such as the college football players taken during the recent pro football draft.

So when I hear Occupy Wall Street protestors and other green-with-envy leftists complain, I say, "Let the market work." After all, athletes and entertainers - rarely the object of the protestors' scorn -- put spectators in the seats and draw eyeballs to the screens. This makes lots of money for the people who pay them.

Meanwhile, in the business world, autopsies of failed enterprises reveal that the cause of death in many cases was myopic management. The aforesaid myopia is often reflected in corporate leaders' failure to respond to competition and/or to notice market trends caused by rapid advances in technology.

The demise of companies behind iconic brands such as Kodak, Polaroid, and Circuit City, together with the recent bailouts in the U.S. auto industry, suggests that bad management, in the end, can be far more costly than paying top dollar for first-rate leadership.

Unfortunately, first-rate leadership is as much in high demand -- and short supply -- as franchise-quality quarterbacks in the National Football League. Short supply plus high demand equals top pay.

Which brings us to Matt Lauer, the co-host of NBC's Today Show. The show -- a long-running mishmash of news, entertainment, and plugs for other interests of the parent company, NBC-Universal - once had a chimp named J. Fred Muggs "co-hosting" (1953-57) with Today's original host, Dave Garroway.

For awhile after that embarrassment -- and especially during the period encompassing the peak of the Cold War, Vietnam, and Watergate -- the program featured more respected journalists such as Hugh Downs, Tom Brokaw, and Jane Pauley.

Under their influence, Today became a somewhat more serious purveyor of news - though always with an admixture of entertainment thrown in. In recent years, however, Today stresses entertainment, with an admixture of news thrown in.

Critics even refer to Today and similar programs as "infotainment." Nonetheless, it has remained a ratings leader in its time slot and an important generator of profits for long-suffering NBC.

As a result, keeping Today ahead in the ratings is an important goal for NBC, which otherwise has been languishing in fourth place among the four major broadcast networks - and losing boatloads of money year after year on its failed prime-time programming.

NBC's top executives obviously attribute a good bit of Today's ratings success to Mr. Lauer, who has been paired with a variety of co-hosts since he came aboard in 1997. 

(Speaking of big paychecks, one of those former co-hosts, Katie Couric, got $15 million a year to anchor the CBS Evening News. While there, however, she failed to raise the ratings, which have lagged its competitors ever since quirky lefty Dan Rather succeeded Walter Cronkite in the anchor's chair.)

As for Mr. Lauer, he and NBC just signed a new contract extending his co-hosting duties at a reported (but denied) annual salary of $25 million. To earn this, he had to be willing to get up early, read a Teleprompter, interview guests ranging from world leaders to Hollywood starlets, occasionally travel to exotic places at the network's expense, and - most important -- keep Today's ratings ahead of ABC's Good Morning America.

If Mr. Lauer can persuade NBC to pay him the reported $25 million a year to do all of that, more power to him. Even so, there is a bit of irony in that this pay scale places Mr. Lauer squarely in the realm that the Occupy Wall Street protestors have labeled "the one percent."

What makes this doubly ironic is Mr. Lauer's views on politics and economics, views that clearly align him with the thinking of the leftist protestors and also led him to be among the harshest critics of the tea party movement.

His views were evident during an interview of Donald Trump last October. After expressing sympathy for the protestors' cause, Mr. Lauer pointedly asked Mr. Trump, "Does the Republican Party, if they ignore the Occupy Wall Street group, do they do so at their peril?"     

That kind of question was not out of character for Mr. Lauer, who has long had been an unabashed partisan - and a fawning interviewer -- of left-wing politicians and celebrities while also subjecting conservatives to hard-ball interrogations worthy of Guantanamo.

The nonpartisan Media Research Center has documented numerous examples of Mr. Lauer's pro-liberal, anti-conservative bias. Here's the link where you'll find them, complete with videos and transcripts: http://www.mrc.org/node/38594.

Granted, to note that there is liberal bias at NBC, the sister network of the relentlessly leftist MSNBC, is like reporting that grass is green and water is wet. Even so, it is worth noting that one of the TV personalities parroting the progressives' populist poppycock is a millionaire getting paid a lot of money to do so. I'll leave it to others to judge whether this amounts to hypocrisy.

Bob Sanchez is policy director of the James Madison Institute. He can be reached at [email protected].

by Dr. Radut.