Today NBC's Matt Lauer participated in a conference call with journalists about the Dateline interview he did recently with Prince William and Prince Harry, and about the Concert for Diana that NBC is broadcasting on Sunday. But some journalists didn't want to play along—they kept asking him pesky questions about whether he'd gotten the interview with the princes because the network had ponied up $2.5 million for the rights to air the concert. Not surprisingly, Lauer denied it.
"NBC had been interested in the concert for a very long time," he said in response to a question from a New York Post reporter about how the network got involved with the interview and the concert. "Months ago, they told me they were pursuing the concert and asked me what my interest level was.... But we had been talking to the palace about interviewing the boys for a long time, long before the idea of the concert came up. Once NBC decided to do the concert, it seemed like a great time for them to speak if they were going to speak. Perhaps on this occasion the boys would speak out—then it was just a question of whether the boys would do it with me, or me over some other people at NBC."
Lauer claims he was forced to jump through hoops before the palace would approve the network's request to interview William and Harry, including having to send over tapes of his previous interviews. "I was very excited when I got the interview," Lauer said.
"Usually those types of interviews involve lots of chasing," the Post reporter prodded. "Because of the concert, was it NBC's guarantee that you would get the interview?"
"When the concert deal was signed, they hadn't decided they were going to do anything. There's no quid pro quo here," Lauer said. "But the concert gave us an enormous advantage, absolutely. It's a no-brainer."
Now, let's parse that. Lauer claims there was no quid pro quo, and if by quid pro quo he means, literally, that the network said to the princes, "Here's $2.5 million for the rights to the concert and now you have to give us an interview," then sure, there was no quid pro quo. But the second part of his response—"the concert gave us an enormous advantage"—seems to be what people are getting their boxers in a bunch about these days. Sure, there's no official deal. There's nothing that anyone can point to as concrete evidence that there was a quid pro quo.
"I was not in on the business dealings of this," Lauer said in response to another question. "If there had been a quid pro quo I wouldn't have had to go through the hoops I had to go through. There was nothing set on paper before we started making those calls."
Well, sure! But it also seems that Lauer—and the rest of the NBC News division—are almost willfully ignorant about the way that their Entertainment division works. After all, if Lauer keeps himself in the dark, he can reassure himself that it was his wonderful audition tapes that landed him the interview with the princes, not the $2.5 million that the entertainment division of the network paid the princes for the rights to the concert.
But Lauer will be hosting the concert for the network as well. So is he working there as a member of the NBC News team? Or as a representative of the Entertainment side? The latter seems more likely.