The hype is unbearable, but Lauer does solid interview with Janay Rice

Baltimore Sun TV/Media critic, David Zurawik, speaks Friday about the NBC Today interview with Ray Rice and his family conducted by Matt Lauer.

The "Today" show hype of its conversation with Janay Rice is almost grotesque in its overkill, but the first parts of Matt Lauer's actual sit-down with the wife of the former Ravens running back and her mother was a respectable piece of morning show TV interviewing.

As the chatter over the ESPN interview with Janay Rice built this weekend, I worried that the national conversation on domestic violence sparked by TMZ's release of the video showing Rice punching his then-fiancee in the face was going to be lost. Rice was saying she does not see herself as a "victim" of domestic violence and that the act that millions saw on the video was a one-time thing - an aberration in her relationship.


But give Lauer credit for both clarifying some key aspects of the story and for respectfully exploring Rice's relationship to that national conversation in the face of her now saying her husband is not abusive and she is not in an abusive relationship.

Here's Lauer trying to get Rice's backstage story on past events with an eye toward detemining who was lying and who wasn't as this story unfolded.


He's asking her about the infamous press conference at Ravens headquarters in which her husband appeared to do just about everything wrong, including not apologizing to her.

Lauer: Did you want to be a part of that press conference?

Rice: I was ready to do anything that was going to help the situation.

Lauer: When you say help the situation — help Ray and his career?

Rice: Both. Help the way we looked in the media. Help his image. Help obviously his career. So, you know, they told us earlier that week we would do the press conference.

Lauer: Did anyone at the Ravens say, 'Janay, it would be really good if you issue some kind of an apology?'

Rice: They suggested it. Yes.


Lauer: Did they come up with the wording?

Rice: No, not specifically. They basically gave us a general script. 

Lauer: That (apology) really started it.

Rice: Yes. And that was frustrating for me, because obviously people took it as, you know, I'm taking light off of what Ray did. In no way. I was, basically, not doing what I was told, but at the same time I didn't think it was completely wrong for me to apologize, because at the end of the day I got arrested, too, so I did something wrong, too. Not taking any light off of what Ray did because I agree with everybody else. He was wrong.

That's good work by Lauer. Everyone I know in Baltimore was blaming that press conference totally on Rice's attorneys, saying the Ravens didn't want Ray Rice to do it, but just went along with it.

That does not sound as if that's the case from that statement.

Then, Lauer starts moving the interview back to domestic violence, saying, "Let me read you some of what people started to say after that and in subsequent weeks."

He read Janay Rice and her mother a statement from Robin Givens, a victim of abuse, explaining the psychology of a victim winding up as the "protector" of the same man who abused her.

"... Does any of that resonate with you?" he asked.

No, she says.

"If anything, I was always Ray's protector."

"I totally understand how people look at that and think that's who she is," her mother says. "But I know her, and we know that she's not."

Lauer tried again, saying,  "It's complicated, because it starts a national conversation, and you say you're happy about it, but at the same time, you don't feel like you're part of that group. But sometimes I have read people saying, 'You're either with us or against us.'"

But, again, Janay Rice and her mother said she is not a victim.

Janay Rice certainly has every right in the world to define her own story and life -- and not let Matt Lauer or anyone else in the media do that. But I respect him gently trying to not let the conversation of domestic abuse fall by the wayside because of what Janay Rice says.

I do wish "Today" would dial down the hype. Monday's show was wall-to-wall with polls on Ray Rice, huge images of Ray and Janay Rice and constant teases for the interview.

And I wish NBC News would answer my questions about when the interview was taped. I wrote about NBC News telling me in email Saturday night that no concessions of any kind were made to Team Rice in gaining this interview.

That was in contrast to ESPN, which gave Team Rice right of final approval over anything published.

You can read a response ESPN posted this morning to criticism of its interview here.

But, based on NBC not answering multiple follow-up questions about when the interview that aired today was recorded, I can only conclude that the network did let Team Rice dictate when it would be published. That's a concession.

That is certainly nowhere near giving away right of final approval. But it does not exactly burnish the brand of NBC News, either.

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