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Larry King Live Weekend

Matt Lauer: Interview Highlights

Aired April 1, 2001 - 9:00 p.m. ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.

LARRY KING, HOST: Tonight: a man millions of Americans love waking up with -- highlights of our interviews with "The Today Show"'s Matt Lauer next on LARRY KING WEEKEND.

Thanks for joining us. Hard to believe, but it is nearly 50 years, a half-century, since "Today" premiered on NBC. And since then, the show has become a TV institution and a ratings powerhouse. Matt Lauer was named "Today"'s permanent co-anchor in January of '97. He did his first interview with us about six-months later.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE, JULY 1, 1997)

Matt, are we past your bed time now?

MATT LAUER, CO-HOST, "THE TODAY SHOW": We're about ten minutes into my bed time. That's right, you owe me ten minutes on the other side, Larry.

KING: Is that weird to go to bed when every adult in the world is up?

LAUER: You know, it's funny. People always say, is it tough getting up at four in the morning? I'm not terrible with that, but the weird thing for me is that I start to feel like a 3-year-old in need of a nap at about 7:30 at night; and, at 9:30, my head is teetering like that. Yeah, that gets a little strange.

KING: Obviously, the job is great, but there can't be -- your social life during the week, nada.

LAUER: Yeah, you've heard. The problem with the job is it's kind of relentless. It's like bit like being back in college, when you have six separate term papers due every morning.

Larry, my friends never understand. They say let's go out to dinner tonight, you'll study twice as hard tomorrow night. You know, they don't stop and remember that this is going on every morning live. You've can't put it off until tomorrow, you've got to do it tonight.

So, you know, I'll get done with you tonight, and I'll go back and do an hour or so, and then hit the hay.

KING: How do you view yourself -- host, interviewer, newsman, morning person, all of the above?

LAUER: I think one thing good about the "Today Show," in my opinion and for my level of experience and my type of experience, that it is all of the above. Which is good because my resume, if you look at it, contains all of the above. So I get to use hosting skills; I get to use journalism skills; I get to use entertainment skills; I get to use them all; and it really is the great composite job for someone who does what I do.

KING: And you have the, kind of, classic resume, do you not? You worked at a few stations, knocked around, lost jobs as everyone in the business has?

LAUER: In those terms, yeah, I do have the classic struggle, get fired, struggle, get fired, start in small towns, like Huntington, West Virginia and Providence, Rhode Island and Richmond, Virginia; but, in terms of the people who have occupied the chair I sit in now, I don't think my resume is classic. Perhaps it's the kind of wave of the future for this job, but it hasn't been what's been present in the past.

Is it true that you applied for a job as a tree trimmer fairly recently?

LAUER: Well, yeah, about six years ago.

KING: That's recent.

LAUER: Yeah, I had been fired five times in five years, and I was sitting at a house. I had less money in the bank than I needed to pay the next month's rent, and I was driving to get coffee with my dog one day, and I saw this tree trimming truck parked on the side of the road. The guys were up in the trees. There was a sign on the back window that said "Help Wanted."

So, I got my coffee, went back home, called the number. There was an answering machine on, because I guess the guys were still the tree. I left my name and said, I'd love to come work for you. That afternoon, and this sounds like one of those stupid Schwab's drugstores type stories, but that afternoon the phone rang again, and it wasn't the tree trimming service, it was the general manager of WNBC, here in New York, calling to say that he had seen a tape of mine, and wanted me to come anchor the early morning newscast that went on from 6:00 to 7:00 a.m., the lead-in to the "Today" show.

I think he ended the conversation, Larry, by saying, would you be interested? You know, I thinking there, I'm waiting for a tree trimmer to call me back, would I be interested in anchoring the news in New York, and that's how I got that job.

KING: What kept you going after five straight losses?

LAUER: It's after about one or two, you can kind of look in the mirror and say, bad producer. You know, it must have been a producer's fault. But, sooner or later, you have to kind of look at yourself, and say what am I doing that's not working, or am I even cut out for this business?

I think the thing that kept me going, and still does, is I have a very down to earth and close-knit family and group of friends.

KING: Did you always know you were good?

LAUER: No. Well, you know, I always knew that it came easily for me in the beginning. I had a number of quick progressions, where they took me from Huntington, West Virginia to New York, hosting a syndicated show in new York when I was 26 years old.

So I wasn't doubting myself a lot during that time, but come on, when you lose four shows in a row, and then get fired from the fifth, and the show keeps going and you get fired, no I didn't think I was good. I thought that there was just something that I wasn't doing to connect with that one viewer, that, as you know, is so important.

KING: Sometimes in this business, and obviously you're a good looking young guy and you're single, that can be a handicap, in that people don't want to accept you seriously. It's happened to many women. Looks get in the way sometimes.

LAUER: I look at it this way. I have always, kind of, used the analogy of a fine restaurant. If you go into a great restaurant, Larry, here in New York or something, and they bring your plate out; and it's got the -- you know how they cut the food into a fan shape, and then take the asparagus and they tie with a scallion, and looks like this piece of art. But if you dig into that food and it tastes like you know what, you may stay at that restaurant that one time, but you're not going back.

So I've always believed that maybe, you know, someone's appearance might draw viewers to a set once, but then if you sit on the air and you're an empty suit, and you don't deliver, you're probably not going to develop an audience.

KING: So, in other words, in your heart, in yourself, can get past that.

LAUER: Listen, you know, it's not something that I ever -- the people hang around me never talk about it. Somebody talked to me today about it, and they said, well, what about all those signs that are outside that say, you know, "love you, Matt, love you, Katie, love you, Alan." You have to remember these people come from Kansas. They drive in many cases. They get up at four in the morning. They stand out on a cold morning in January, and their sole purpose is to have their family see them on television. Now, If they hold a sign that says "Matt has the profile of an anteater," or something like that, we are probably not putting them on the air. They say, "I love you Matt," and we put them on the air; and then everybody says, well, everybody writes those signs. It's because they want to be on TV.

KING: We'll take a break, come right back with Matt Lauer, co- host with Katie Couric. As we mentioned, January 6 was a huge day for Matt Lauer and here's how his colleague, Katie Couric, introduced Matt on his first show as permanent co-host. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ANNOUNCER: From NBC News, this is "Today," with Katie Couric and Matt Lauer. Live from studio 1-A in Rockafeller Plaza.

KATIE COURIC: And welcome to "Today," on this Monday morning, a very special Monday morning for our friend Matt Lauer. So how did that sound? Do you want to hear it again? One more time, let's hear it again.

LAUER: Go ahead, play it back, can you?

ANNOUNCER: This is "Today," with Katie Couric and Matt Lauer and Matt Lauer...

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE, JULY 1, 1997)

KING: We're back with Matt Lauer. We'll get into the process of co-anchoring "Today" show, but first on a sad note. You lost your father recently, right?

LAUER: Yes, my dad passed away a couple of months ago. He had been ill on and off for long time, but it was difficult, because he really got ill just about the time when I was getting this new job. So it was -- obviously, a lot of my attention was focused on the job, but a whole other part of me was focused on Florida where he was.

I tell you, Larry, the one thing that happened that was an enormous blessing, people out there might identify with this -- I took a week's vacation the week before my dad died. And I went down there and spent an enormous amount of time with him and really sat. And we literally talked about everything. He knew what was happening. He knew I believe...

KING: Knew he was dying?

LAUER: He knew he was dying. He knew fairly well the timetable for it. He was incredibly strong and incredibly brave. But I got to sit at his bedside for hour after hour during that week, talking about him dying, talking about how it affected him, what his fierce were, talking about my childhood and our early days together. I had a conversation with him on a Sunday morning, where I literally got to say good bye. I got on a plane, went back to work Monday. He died Tuesday.

So, I mean, most people, when you think about it, probably get a phone call in the middle of the night and they say, guess what, unfortunately, your parent passed away. But I spent the last week of his life with him and having the kind of discussion that I think a son only dreams of having with his father.

KING: And you're saying to others, in that situation, take the time.

LAUER: Well...

KING: We tend to turn away from death.

LAUER: Well, that's easy to say when it's a predictable death, we knew this was happening. But take the time now, if you don't know it's going to happen. I mean, just think about I can sit here tonight and tell you I don't have any questions about how he felt to me or how I felt about him. That's only because we had that time together.

KING: He died of what?

LAUER: Lung cancer.

KING: Smoker?

LAUER: Smoker, unfortunately. Quit ten years ago, but too late.

KING: Were you a smoker?

LAUER: I have never smoked a cigarette in my life, not because of that, just because I didn't have a taste for them, but -- knock wood -- it's never been something I have done.

KING: You and Katie Couric hit it off right away?

LAUER: I think so. I think even during the days where I worked for WNBC and didn't work for "Today" show, there was some kind of fun relationship between the two of us. You know, you said before you went to a break that it is important to like the person you're with. I don't know that you could say you probably could get away not liking the person you are sitting next to.

But the difference is you spend two hours live talking to people, while they're having breakfast or getting ready for work, I think people probably could tell you were faking it. So unless you came right out and said, folks, we don't like each other, but we have this job and we are going to do it together, maybe in that way, they'd tune in to see whether you throw coffee on one another. But I think it's just important. Luckily, I don't have that to worry about it.

KING: We'll take a break. Come back and take calls for Matt Lauer, the co-host of the "Today" show, the number one rated morning show in network television. Don't go away.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

COURIC: That was bugging me; I'm sorry, here. There you go. Looks better now. You were kind of...

LAUER: Well, I was trying to figure out why you were doing this as...

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

LAUER: When you really think about it, the way you say it isn't important, it's who you say it to. And my rule is simple: just keep a list of the really important people; that way you don't forget anyone, and there are no hurt feelings. Oh, and don't be afraid to add a name here and there.

I don't know about you, but I get real embarrassed when it's time to tell someone that I like them. But this is the holiday for all us chickens, because even if your special someone doesn't know that you're alive, now's the chance to prove that you are. And whatever you do, don't back down.

Matt Lauer, TV13 Action News, Charleston.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE, JULY 1, 1997)

KING: Altamonte Springs, Florida, hello.

CALLER: Hello. Hi, Matt.

LAUER: Hi.

CALLER: Larry wanted to be a radio announcer in his school book. What did you say you wanted to be in your school yearbook?

LAUER: You know, I was -- I was one of these people that didn't have all these dreams. I knew I wanted to work in television because some friends of mine, when I went to high school -- their fathers worked for, as a matter of fact, for NBC Sports at the time. So, I always thought that was fascinating, but if you had given me a crystal ball and said, hey -- or if you had given me a genie's lamp and said, you can make a wish. What do you want to be? I probably would have picked -- I would have liked to be like a relief pitcher for the Yankees or something like that.

Being in front of the camera -- first of all, when I wanted to get into television, it was as a producer. I never had an idea that I would do anything in front of the camera, and that kind of happened by accident. But I wanted to be a producer or give me a job with the Yankees or play for the Knicks. I was a sports nut when I was a kid.

KING: Middle reliever or closer?

LAUER: I think I would have been the closer although I'm not that big. I don't know if I'm overpowering enough, Larry. Maybe I would have been that sixth, seventh inning guy.

KING: Yes, bring in Lauer.

LAUER: Yes, right, bring him out in a hurry.

KING: We're behind seven-one. Hold them down! Babson Park, Florida, hello?

CALLER: Good evening, Larry and Matt.

KING: Hi.

CALLER: Matt, we thought you to be the sassiest dresser on TV. My 19-year-old son just emulated you, but suddenly since becoming host, you have become conservative. What happened?

KING: Ah-hah!

LAUER: You know, it's funny -- I think I was more conservative when I was doing the news, because when I was the news caster on the show, basically I was rarely talking about anything that was light hearted. There is a certain responsibility that I have to come to work every day prepared and that includes the way you look -- prepared for something major to happen.

And if I come in and I want to wear, you know, a wild sport jacket and maybe no tie or a turtle neck, and all of a sudden a major story breaks, I am going to look out of place interviewing a secretary of state, if I am sitting there in a turtle neck or in something wild. So, maybe I have toned it down somewhat, but I don't think it's much of a difference from when I was doing the news -- I really -- not noticeable at least.

KING: Chandler, Arizona for Matt Lauer, hello.

CALLER: Yes, I know you recently graduated from college.

LAUER: I did.

CALLER: And I was just wondering how that felt for you?

KING: What did you have? One credit to make up or something?

LAUER: I needed four when I left college because I had a job offer in Huntington, West Virginia and I took it. And then, I always kept saying, I'd go back and get that course and I never did. So, I gave -- the last two Saturdays ago, I went to Ohio University; I gave the commencement address to the graduating seniors and became a member of the graduating class myself.

I have to tell you something. It meant more to me at almost 40, than I know it would have meant at 21. So, there's something actually good about waiting, because the whole pomp and circumstance, the pageantry, the tradition of it, I mean, I was crying for half the weekend. I had a great time. I don't know whether it would have meant that to me, when I was normally supposed to graduate.

KING: Matt, there's a certain conception, I guess people have of Bryant Gumbel. He's been painted certain ways in the press. What -- I have never had a bad minute with him, but what -- what don't we know about him?

LAUER: I don't know that anybody, whose ever spent a minute with him or ten minutes with him or ten days with him, says anything bad about him. That used to bother the hell out of me, Larry, I got to be honest with you. He's a very good friend of mine, very good friend of mine and I used to really get aggravated when I would hear people take potshots at him, who'd never met the man or met him for a fleeting second, and were basing their opinion on probably what someone else whispered in their ear.

This is one of the warmest, most intelligent, best broadcasters I have ever met in my life. But above and beyond all of that, get to know him as a friend and find out what kind of a friend he is, and then write something about him, but don't write about him if you don't know him.

KING: He's a good guy.

LAUER: You know, he's a great guy to me. I spent a lot of time with him.

KING: Denver, Colorado, last call for Matt Lauer, hello.

CALLER: Yes, Matt, how do you handle not showing your emotions while interviewing high-profile stories?

LAUER: I think -- I don't know that we don't not show our emotions. You can't -- you can't just break down on the air and you can't say, or you can't take a side and just say, you're wrong and how can you say that?

But, you know, I think that if you listen to the types of questions we ask and the way we ask those questions, we do show an awful lot of emotion. When we're talking about a story where -- for example, the prom mother -- where the mother had the baby at the prom and left the baby in the trash -- I mean, we're allowed to say, we are just baffled by this and how horrible it is. And, you know, I think if you really kind of pay attention, you'll know exactly how we stand on most issues, as a matter of fact, without us coming out and saying, here's how I stand.

KING: Thanks for being with us, Matt.

LAUER: Hey, Larry, any time.

KING: Long and happy career.

LAUER: Thanks very much.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

KING: When we return: highlights of our 1998 interview with Matt Lauer. On the agenda: marriage, Monica Lewinsky and the television critic who compared him to a male model. Stay tuned.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) LAUER: The number of injuries connected to fireworks went from hundreds to just a handful this past July 4th, and most people say that that's a direct result of this confiscation. The state police and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms are working to keep fireworks like these out of your children's hands this summer, but they can use all the help they can get. If you know of any violations of fireworks laws, give somebody at one of those offices a call.

Matt Lauer, TV13 Action News in Crosslanes.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

LAUER: We are now rising on the elevator to the main deck of the USS Theodore Roosevelt, currently cruising -- and I mean cruising -- in the Mediterranean on her way to the Adriatic, where she will rejoin her battle group and rejoin Operation Allied Force. This is an amazing sight; and I want to tell you, it's the first ever live broadcast from an American aircraft carrier at sea, not to mention the fact that this carrier is now on her way into combat.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: When Matt Lauer sat down with me in March of '98, the Lewinsky scandal was front-page news, but Matt was generating headlines, too, in the tabloids. I asked him why he got so much attention.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE, MARCH 10, 1998)

LAUER: I don't know. I'm the most boring man in New York, and for some reason they think I have a more interesting life than I do.

KING: Is it because you're a single guy?

LAUER: I think I'm the first single co-host of the "Today" show, and that is something that gives them fodder for the mill, a (UNINTELLIGIBLE) for the mill. But the funny thing for me is that 90 percent of what they write -- I mean if they have me out on a date with a woman, 90 percent of the time I have never met that woman. If they have me with Cheryl Crow, great relationship -- it was going well -- problem -- never met the woman. Sorry about that.

KING: When you read something like that -- like it's a total absurdity...

LAUER: Yeah.

KING: ... you didn't even have lunch with her...

LAUER: Right. I usually laugh at it Larry. Except every once in a while, someone I know will come up to me and say something, because they would have read it or they will have heard about it. And that bugs me, because I don't want to have to explain, and there are people -- when my dad was alive, he called me one night when there was a front page article about me and Katie -- love triangle -- me and Katie. And he said Matt we read something in a newspaper. And I said dad that's not a newspaper. It's a tabloid. It's got pictures of aliens on it. It's not a newspaper. So it worries me only to that degree that there are people who take that as the gospel.

KING: Did you, when you took this on, expect that?

LAUER: No. I always considered myself to be on the other side of the velvet rope. I'm still amazed when I go to an opening of a movie or when I go to the "Time" magazine party the other night, and the photographers are calling out my name and they want to interview me, because I still in my mind am on the other side of that rope.

KING: The good ones always are. I always think of myself there.

LAUER: Yeah, so it catches you off guard.

KING: But it is a fact. You're a celebrity.

LAUER: It does happen. Even when people come up to me on the street and go hey Matt, sometimes I think I must know them. I forget that they say hey Matt because they watch me on the air.

KING: Do you think that is partially due to the fact that it happened so quickly for you?

LAUER: I think it's a little bit of that. It's also a little bit of the fact that in between the kind of successful times, there were times when no one recognized me. So I'm still not used to the fact that they are recognizing me again. There were four or five years back there five years ago when I could have walked down the street buck naked and no one is turning his head.

KING: The rumors with Katie, how did that affect you on the set -- her husband is alive?

LAUER: Luckily she had a great sense of humor about it. She laughed about it. They apparently they had secret tapes that revealed our love triangle. She went into Jay and said oh, my God Jay they found the tapes.

KING: It had to do with the way you looked at each other, right? They said they noticed Matt looked at her for long times.

LAUER: I think what they had is a body language expert who said she stands next to her a lot. Guess what, we're co-hosts.

(LAUGHTER)

LAUER: We have to. That was the whole basis of their relationship.

KING: Tell me how for you was the Jay story, the death of Jay Monahan? LAUER: Obviously, we all knew that he had been terribly ill and was fighting one amazingly courageous battle. The news still came as a shock. I wasn't aware he was that sick that it was imminent.

KING: Was Katie?

LAUER: Katie was probably much more aware than any of we were. She was living with it on a daily basis.

KING: Because there were days he looked good. He was on television.

LAUER: Yeah. That is an insipid disease. But the news hit us all, because you would be lying we wouldn't say that were a little bit like a family there. We're not a traditional family, but when you work that many hours with someone, at that time of the day with someone, and you travel with people like that, it's impossible not to get to know a little bit about their lives and get under their skin a little bit, and feel as if you're part of the family. It was a major blow. I still think to this day that she handled the nine months that he was ill in an incredible fashion...

KING: Classy.

LAUER: ... came to work every day. You know, ready to go.

KING: I saw her this morning, and while she's back to her groove, she has lost some of the perkiness. You'd have to. There's a sadness in the eyes, or maybe I'm reading it there.

LAUER: Of course there is. There has to be. It's been six weeks. I would imagine there are topics that we talk about every day on the show that remind her of Jay, and remind her of what's just happened.

KING: Law.

LAUER: Law, health, families -- I mean, everything has some connection to what she's just been through.

KING: Now how did you handle it from the Matt Lauer standpoint, the first day she came back?

LAUER: We talked. You know, it's not like all of a sudden I see her in the office where I hadn't seen her for a month. We had talked quite a bit on the phone. We talked about the type of opportunity that she wanted to have at the beginning of the show. To me, that was a day to just kind of let people know in a very subtle and very sincere way that it was an amazingly happy day for us at the show, but somewhat of a melancholy day. You got someone that comes back. It's not like she's back ready to party. You've got someone who is back still rather in a delicate situation. I was thrilled with the way she handled it. We were able to say we're really happy to have you back, and she was able to thank people who meant so much to her during his illness.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

LAUER: We missed you, welcome back.

COURIC: Thank you, Matt, for all your support. I just wanted to say a few things about my absence. Many of you know that I lost my husband, Jay Monahan, my loving and beloved husband last month after a courageous battle with colon cancer. Words, of course, will never describe how devastating this loss has been for me and my daughters and all of Jay's family as well; but the heartfelt and compassionate letters and cards that so many of you sent to me were enormously comforting, and I'm so grateful.

I'm also grateful to those who have made contributions to the National Cancer Institute in Jay's memory. It is my profound hope that the money can be used to help eradicate this terrible disease, which is second only to lung cancer in the number of cancer deaths in this country every year. For all of you who may be struggling with a life-threatening disease right now and wondering how the world can keep going business as usual, just know that my heart goes out to you.

LAUER: I speak for everyone in this building, and I'm sure, everyone at home, when I say it's great to see you and great to have you back.

COURIC: Thank you.

LAUER: Thanks.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

LAUER: You have said, I understand, to some close friends, that this is the last great battle, and that one side or the other is going down here.

HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON, FORMER FIRST LADY: Well, I don't know if I've been that dramatic. That would sound like a good line from a movie. But I do believe that this is a battle. I mean, look at the very people who are involved in this -- they have popped up in other settings. This is -- the great story here for anybody willing to find it and write about it and explain it is this vast right-wing conspiracy that has been conspiring against my husband since the day he announced for president.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE, MARCH 10, 1998)

KING: Who decides who interviews whom? Like you interviewed me this morning.

LAUER: Right.

KING: When was that decision made?

LAUER: Probably a day or two ago.

KING: Producers make it completely?

LAUER: Most of the -- oh, absolutely, unless there's a personal connection. If Katie has a personal connection with a guest or I do, then obviously, we'll take the lead in one of those things. Most of the time it's random. Most of the time it's done, believe it or not, just to balance out the show. I mean, if...

KING: She'll do him, you do her, you...

LAUER: Right, -- you don't want one person who's doing three heavy interviews and the other is doing a cooking segment.

KING: There's no edge given to Katie, because she's been there longer?

LAUER: Edge in priority?

KING: Yeah.

LAUER: I don't think so. You know, if that's naive of me -- smack me on the nose. I don't think so. It's never been the case. I have never felt that way.

KING: You never felt boy, I want to do this guest and you gave it to her?

LAUER: If that's the case, I'm sure there are times she sat in the room and thought -- I wish I were doing that guest and he's doing it.

KING: How do you deal with the restrictions of time? Any interviewer loves to interview, and if you love to interview, the more time you get the better.

You know, it's funny, because -- as you well know, five minutes not a long amount of time. If you have a bad guest five minutes a lot of time.

KING: Correct.

LAUER: So I always look at it as if you come to the show, and you're bringing something to the party then I need more time. But Bryant taught me something, also. He said, first of all, I used to make a mistake. I would dilly-dally around the first couple of questions with a guest, a little warmup, like I'm doing a taped interview, because I know that they probably are not going to see that, now I'll get to the meat of the issue.

Bryant taught me somewhere -- Bryant's first question was usually somewhere in the heart of the issue -- and usually catch the guest off guard. So I have done that a little bit better. I also don't think it's a bad thing to leave the viewers wanting a little more, as opposed to having them walk away from the interview saying, I got a little too much.

KING: But emotionally, for you, isn't that difficult? Or intellectually.

LAUER: It's quick. Sometimes I'm listening to an answer from a guest, and I'm thinking, this is great stuff and I'll look over the guests shoulder and the floor manager is giving me one minute, and I think man, how am I going to do this? How am I going to get -- more in that's of significance?

KING: Toughest job to date on the "Today" Show?

LAUER: Hillary Clinton.

KING: After the Monica Lewinsky revelation, right?

LAUER: Yeah.

KING: You and "Good Morning America" were the last two things she did and then she stopped.

LAUER: And fortunately for us, we were the first.

KING: And had her booked already on another topic.

LAUER: This was -- it was a previously booked interview, regularly scheduled. She was coming on, I think, to deal with child care and discussion of the new millennium. Katie was originally scheduled to do the interview, just out of rotation. Katie's husband passed away two days before, and we come in. We've got a story that has broken -- can't call it a scandal, but we've got a situation broken with this Monica Lewinsky situation and four days later, five days later, we're the first people who get to talk to Hillary Clinton.

KING: So, your thoughts?

LAUER: I guess I was slightly naive at how big it was. I'll tell you a funny story. I mean, I knew that it was important. I didn't feel the pressure, which was really surprising to me, until the morning of. We spent a lot of time preparing for the interview, Jeff Sucker, myself, Terry Schaeffer (ph) is a producer -- Andy Lack -- we sat in a room the day before, went over a lot, not as much about specific questions. Those they have to basically leave up to me.

But we did discuss tone that you take with the first lady of the United States on an issue like this. I mean, this is, first of all, you're not going to get -- if you remember, one of the major questions being bandied about during that time was -- how do you put this delicately -- was oral sex sex? I'm not going to get into an anatomy lesson with the first lady of the United States, you just don't.

So we discussed tone in that meeting. The next morning I was very comfortable. I walk into work, Larry, it's 10 of 5:00 in the morning. I get to the office, I pull up in the car and there are live crews from television stations outside the station. Reporters from morning shows doing stories, that here's where the interview is going to take place. In two hours Matt Lauer will sit down with the first lady -- and all of the sudden it hit me. This is the lead story on other people's newscasts.

KING: So you got nervous. Did that affect performance?

LAUER: I don't think so. I think it was -- I'm better when I'm a little bit nervous. I'm better when there's a little bit of pressure. I'm not as good when there is nothing at stake. So I think there was a great energy. Other people will be the best judge of how it turned out.

KING: Were you surprised at how strongly she defended him?

LAUER: No, I mean, I think she's one of his prime assets. We didn't expect her to come out and say woe is me and what a terrible situation. We were -- you know, I think we all expected a strong performance from the first lady and I think we got it.

KING: What did you personally think while interviewing her about this kind of subject? I mean, you're talking to her. The whole country is talking about it.

LAUER: Yeah. I was -- concerned with a couple of things. Again, we get into the live television situation of finite time. You know, I know I've got between 15 and 18 minutes. Sounds like a long time. In our business it is a long time.

KING: I would have 60.

LAUER: Right, you'd have 60.

KING: That's a...

LAUER: So in my format 15 minutes is a big time. But I also know there's a lot to talk about and she hasn't spoken before. My thoughts during the interview were, do I get bogged down on specifics if we get into one particular question? He said-she said, or dates, times, meetings, places, or do I try and get a broad range of topics out, so that the people get to hear her response to a lot of questions? And I was trying to make sure that, although I could follow questions, I wanted to move things along and not leave people thinking I didn't do enough -- a tough enough job.

KING: Even her strongest critic would say she is a strong lady.

LAUER: Oh, no question about it.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

LAUER: Let me take you and your husband out of this for a second -- Bill and Hillary aren't involved in this story: If an American president had an adulterous liaison in the White House and lied to cover it up, should the American people ask for his resignation?

CLINTON: Well, they should certainly be concerned about it.

LAUER: Should they ask for his resignation?

CLINTON: Well, I think -- if all that were proven true, I think that would be a very serious offense. That is not going to be proven true.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

LAUER: I think this is another S-3, watch this. And again, I asked him to stop right there, and he went a little too far; I'm going to have to talk to him about that afterwards.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE, MARCH 10, 1998)

KING: We're back on LARRY KING LIVE with -- everybody seems to love Matt Lauer except Tom Shales of "The Washington Post." He wrote and I'll quote -- "he seems like a male model with a gift for the glib."

LAUER: Yeah.

KING: Like -- Tom criticizes people the way they look a lot.

LAUER: Yeah, I wonder why that is. Dr. Freud, please call your office. You know what, so many things have been written, Larry, I decide if you start to believe the good things you have got to listen to the bad thing, I try to not pay too much attention. Critics -- their job is to criticize, you know, and I think that's the easiest way to explain what Tom Shales says.

KING: And it rolls off you?

LAUER: Yeah, you know what -- no, no it doesn't roll off me completely. I didn't read the article when it first came out, when he said that. I have heard it. People have used it in interviews like you just did. Does it roll off, do you look and say, it does it matter? No. I don't want people to read that. I hope that people don't think that's true. I think the best way to handle it is to shut up, do my job, and let people draw their own conclusion.

KING: There was a guy in Miami once who ran a television station who criticized the critics.

LAUER: Yeah.

KING: He'd come on and say look at this misprint. Look at how poorly this is written. LAUER: I have talked about that a lot. Newspapers have media critics, they criticize people on television and radio. We don't employ someone at the "Today" show to criticize everything that's written in newspapers and magazines.

KING: Trust me they'd go nuts if you did.

LAUER: They would have a very...

KING: Screaming and calling in, yelling...

LAUER: Very thin skinned.

KING: It's the reversal of fortune. Katie has been major stand- up for you though right -- openly.

LAUER: I hope so. I think that again, we both have taken the idea that, I knew that people were going to say certain thing, look, I had to take over for Bryant Gumbel. I mean that's not -- he's got a great reputation. I just decided early on that I wasn't going to say, hey folks I am Bryant, or I am going to fill these shoes. I just decided get in there do the homework every night, do the interviews. If they come out well then people will draw their own conclusions at the end.

KING: Talking about your own future, you were quoted as saying you want great kids, a great wife, bed in breakfast, fish in the morning, golf in the afternoon. This would seem that Lauer is looking forward to laziness.

LAUER: I think I answered the question. The question was do you see yourself doing this job for as long as Bryant did, 15 years? I don't. I love the job. But there was so much I didn't get to do out of college. I was never the kid who left college and traveled Europe. I have a couple of passions -- golf and fishing being two of them. I would love to take some time at some point where I am very young, and very able to enjoy those things and take a couple of years and go off and do those things. I don't know if I am going to want to be first of all in the spotlight for that long, I think a little diversion would be great.

KING: Explain the fanaticism of golf.

LAUER: Tough to explain if you're not a golfer. To me it's a very -- very much a nostalgic thing. My dad taught me to play when I was 8 years old, so you look back...

KING: You were very close to him right?

LAUER: Extraordinarily close to my dad. So you look back -- even today, when I walk on a golf course today, somewhere the synapses in my brain are kicking in those memories of spending four and five hours alone with my dad on a golf course. That has to connect to some sort of passion. Fishing is the same thing.

KING: Part of it is the experience? LAUER: Part of it is that it makes me feel good. But why does it make me feel good? Probably because it takes me back to a time where I felt my best -- fishing is the same thing. My dad taught me how to fish. When I am stand in a trout stream now, and I have the waders on, and I've got a fly rod in my hand, or I am fishing for bass, I think of sitting in a boat with my dad. How can that be a bad experience?

KING: Eating the fish is not the important thing.

LAUER: I throw the fish back. I never eat the fish. It depends what your point of reference is. My point of reference as a golfer is that is was a wonderful experience between father and son.

KING: Jackie Gleason told me many times, it's also the great humbler -- golf. Anytime your ego is getting away, go out and shoot around.

LAUER: How about this. If you get a hole in one, it's the best thing you can do in golf. It still counts as one against you.

KING: That's right.

LAUER: Just one. It doesn't go in the other direction. It goes as one against you. It's impossible to beat the course, it never happens.

KING: Can't beat the course. Do you play against the people you're playing with or against your own score?

LAUER: A little of both. Depends on the people I'm playing with. If I'm playing with a group -- Bryant and some other people, and we're all fairly evenly matched, it's a match between the group. If I am playing against people much worse than me, I am playing against the course.

KING: In fishing, are there, Ted Williams, one of the greatest fisherman who ever lived -- also a great baseball player -- do you think that's a natural talent -- why do they bite for somebody and they don't for somebody else?

LAUER: I think there's a way you can become better fisherman, absolutely. I think it's really a matter of patience. Interview a lot of fisherman. I think you'll find one common thread. That is they tend to be pretty patient people.

KING: Boy they can sit.

LAUER: That's what most people find absolutely intolerable about fishing.

KING: Golfing too.

LAUER: Absolutely.

KING: Back with more of Matt Lauer. Don't go away. (END VIDEOTAPE)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE, MARCH 10, 1998)

KING: We're back with Matt Lauer. You mentioned that you do want to get marry and have kids. You were married once, right?

LAUER: I was married once for seven years.

KING: No children?

LAUER: No children, not a horrible experience. Yeah, I definitely want to get married. I definitely want to have children. I have a niece, six-and-a-half years old and there was a time, even with her, where I was thrilled to be with her during the day, thrilled that she went home at night. Less and less of that now. I would love -- you know, I would love to try and share things. And I want to do it before -- Katie always kids me, she says, have kids before you're too old to throw the football to your son.

KING: How old are you?

LAUER: Just turned 40.

KING: About time.

LAUER: Thanks.

KING: Is there anyone on -- none of my business, but is anyone on the line possibly, that you might...

LAUER: Well, you make it sound like it's an assembly line, here.

KING: No, no -- I mean, coming along.

LAUER: I am single, but extremely committed and spoken for.

KING: You are. Well, that's great news.

LAUER: Yeah, absolutely.

KING: There's a person in the media.

LAUER: Not in the media. She is terrific. It has been about eight months now.

KING: Does she get bugged when she reads that you're with someone else that...

LAUER: You know, God love her, she never reads those things.

KING: You never reveal who she is or anything.

LAUER: You know what, I think she is entitled to her privacy. If she wants to say it that's fine.

KING: It wouldn't bother you if she said it?

LAUER: Oh, gosh not at all.

KING: Well, then are you going to plan...

LAUER: I go out in public -- we go to all the parties together and things like that.

KING: Are you going to pick a date?

LAUER: I don't know if we're ready for that yet, but I mean...

KING: What tells you you're ready, do you think?

LAUER: Gosh, I don't know. I -- it's one of those thing, you know it when you see it.

KING: Are you afraid of it having failed?

LAUER: No, no, not at all. That was written someplace -- that Matt's afraid of commitment. It's not at all true. I think it'll be something we'll look at each other and day and say boom -- and It'll happen quickly. I really do -- I think.

KING: The betting will be it will happen with this girl?

LAUER: This is good stuff, Larry. This is real good.

KING: I have been doing this...

LAUER: You know, what I'll make a bet that it probably will.

KING: Matt Lauer is going to marry her.

LAUER: I didn't say that. I said I'll make a bet that it probably will.

KING: It probably will, but once you bet. OK, I bet you it won't.

LAUER: I'll bet you everything in my pocket.

KING: OK, I'll bet you 5,000, just to win the money you'll do it. You were very close to your father, right?

LAUER: Yeah.

KING: And he got to see you hit major leagues before he passed on?

LAUER: Yeah, he obviously saw the three years that I was the newscaster on the "Today" Show. He saw about four months of me in this job, was very ill for that entire time. But, you know, it's difficult for me to even talk about still. It really is. I know how proud he was. My dad had a great talent for telling you how proud he was. He wasn't one of these guys who kept everything inside.

KING: I like that. You new knew you were loved?

LAUER: I knew I was loved. I knew he was proud of me. He knew I was proud of him.

KING: Your brothers and sisters?

LAUER: I have a sister.

KING: Younger?

LAUER: Older. Also very close to my dad. It's -- they say you're never ready to lose a parent. That's something I -- that's an expression I'd used a hundred times in the past and it's true.

KING: He died of...

LAUER: He had lung -- I think he probably died of lung cancer. He had several different kinds of problems.

KING: He was a smoker?

LAUER: He had smoked for a long time, he quit about ten years ago, but listen I'll -- and I never missed the opportunity to say this. I sat with my dad on his death bed and one thing I will never forget him saying to me was damn the cigarettes. He said damn the cigarettes.

KING: How did you handle growing up in a divorce situation?

LAUER: It was not difficult for me. My parents were spectacular in the handling of it for me.

KING: They were friends to you.

LAUER: You know, when the divorce came about it was never a situation where my dad had to drive up on a Friday afternoon, honk the horn, and my mom pushed us out the door. My dad would come in and have a drink. My dad would -- if it was early, he'd come over and join us for dinner. When we had major events -- graduating from high school, my mom and my dad threw the party together.

They were so smart and so enlightened about how to deal with it for the children's sake, that I never felt -- I felt as if they lost their marriage, and I gained two extra parents, both remarried. And it was a wonderful experience. I never felt traumatized by it, ever.

I think the only thing -- lasting effect of it is -- and I think this is true with a lot of children of divorce -- that you tend in your own life, then, to divorce as possibly more of an obvious option if you get into trouble in your marriage. It shouldn't be that way. It should be harder in this country to get a divorce.

KING: What about -- not many people -- many maybe now have, living with our around someone who you know is terminal? LAUER: My dad lived in Florida, so I would go down on weekends. I wasn't there on a daily basis. The hardest conversation I ever had with my dad, and I don't think that anyone can doubt this, and how could it be more difficult? My dad is in the hospital. I am in New York. I know that it's terminal. My stepmother has told me this is what the doctor told her. I said does dad know? She said he is going to be told today by the doctor.

Now, you got to pick up the phone that night and call your dad, 'cause I called him every night, knowing that he's been told that news today. And he got on the phone, I said dad how are you? He said I got some horrible news today. My dad didn't cry. I wept uncontrollably at home, uncontrollably.

KING: We'll be back with our remaining moments and more questions for Matt Lauer. Don't go away.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE, MARCH 10, 1998)

KING: This morning on the "Today" show, change the pace a little -- Matt Lauer asked me -- you can get Monica Lewinsky live tomorrow night or Saddam Hussein. He seemed shocked when I said I think we would take Monica Lewinsky.

LAUER: No, I wasn't shocked.

KING: OK, who would you take tomorrow morning on "Today?"

LAUER: Personal interest.

KING: Who would you take?

LAUER: Ratings, I would have to take Monica Lewinsky.

KING: Public, you'd have to take Monica Lewinsky, and the producers want to take Monica Lewinsky.

LAUER: Better interview: Saddam Hussein.

KING: More important interview?

LAUER: Oh, gosh. Oh, gosh, absolutely. But I agree with your answer, I really do. I mean, you know, it's one of those things I was kind of hoping you'd say Saddam Hussein, but I knew you wouldn't. Yeah, it's natural. At this date -- moment in time, that's the interview.

KING: And the one everyone would love to do and she -- that would win out over any other. Today, she would be a better get today, probably than the president, because he would have to respond to what she said.

Right. And, you'd also figure as an interviewer you'd probably get more out of Monica Lewinsky than you'd get out of the president.

KING: As someone who is annoyed by it, are you annoyed when you keep hearing it. In other words, you're not only annoyed by when the "Today" Show does it.

LAUER: No, I am not annoyed by the fact that we do it all the time, because I know there's enormous interest in it. I am personally tired of it, that's all I'm saying. When I opened up my folder tonight, Larry, and it's the research for tomorrow, it's a little bit hard to get motivated to do this subject again. It just is.

KING: Are -- based on the coverage of this, are we less or more absorbed with sex? Because you could make the case, maybe less, we're not holding it against the president?

LAUER: I think a lot of people are make that case. If you believe the polls that say a certain number of people believe that they did have sex and then if you look at the polls they'll tell you he's got a 70 something approval rate, then you'd have say those people are differentiating. They're saying I don't care about sex, as long as he's a good president.

KING: Other than interviewing and "Today" Show kind of thing, what are the other things you would like to do? Would you like to be a golf reporter? Like to cover major tournaments?

LAUER: No, I don't think so. I did a little sports for a while. I did the Stanley Cup for ESPN one time, not as play-by-play, but the in locker room guy. It's funny -- and this is something where it's a tough act to follow -- I think I am cut out for what I am doing right now. I think this is the best job in the media for me. And until they create another job -- look, I used to say two things when people asked me ten years ago what jobs would you like? I'd say I would love to be the host of the "Today" Show and I would like Larry King's job.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

KING: I'm flattered Matt wants this job but, since I love what I'm doing, I'll stick around.

That's all for this Sunday edition of LARRY KING WEEKEND. Thanks for watching, see you tomorrow night; good night.

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