How Matt Lauer Became the Leader of the Pack

 Ruven Afanador

It's war in the mornings as the "Today" host opens up about his new reported $25 million-a-year deal, a move that (most likely) keeps the NBC juggernaut on top, inspired a strange delivery by "GMA" and has the industry marveling over how one man alone has altered the landscape of TV news.

LAUER'S MOST MEMORABLE INTERVIEWS: In his first years at Today, critics worried he didn't have hard-news chops. Now, he's known as a nice guy who can still throw a punch.

Tom Cruise (June 2005) In an appearance to promote War of the Worlds -- with then-fiancee Katie Holmes in tow -- Cruise spars with Lauer over Scientology, then slams the pharmacology industry and Brooke Shields in particular for taking antidepressants for postpartum depression. When Lauer asserts he's known people who have been helped by such drugs, Cruise fires back, "You're glib."

George W. Bush (September 2006) Lauer presses the president on the government's black sites and enhanced interrogation techniques including waterboarding during an interview in the Oval Office on the fifth anniversary of 9/11. Both men are standing, and an animated Bush repeatedly jabs his finger in Lauer's chest. Lauer keeps a framed photo from the interview -- snapped by the White House photographer on the portico -- in his NBC office. 

Ann Coulter (January 2009) The conservative host is bounced from Today in favor of Tony Blair and confronts Lauer when she's rebooked the next day. He responds: "We traded you for Tony Blair, and I think that's a pretty good switch." Coulter claims she was only asked back after the Drudge Report publicized the snub. Lauer retorts: "You know what that expression is? Just because you're paranoid doesn't mean you don't have enemies."

John McCain (January 2010) Lauer asks the Arizona senator whether allegations in Mark Halperin and John Heilemann's Game Change of a "hasty and haphazard" vetting of Sarah Palin are a "fair assessment." When McCain answers, "I wouldn't know," Lauer pounces: "Your comment that you wouldn't know is somewhat surprising to me; you were the presidential candidate."

Kanye West (November 2010) West becomes annoyed when a video of him grabbing the microphone from Taylor Swift at the 2009 MTV Video Music Awards plays underneath his interview. "Please don't let that happen again," West tells Lauer. "That's ridiculous." Lauer orders the video nixed but later asserts, "There's nothing improper about it." West subsequently cancels a planned Today performance.

Christie Brinkley (March 2012) The former supermodel expects to promote her star turn in Broadway's Chicago, but the interview focuses on her ugly public divorce from Peter Cook. "How can you two make this better … for the sake of the children," asks Lauer pointedly. Brinkley breaks down: "I just want peace, and every time I have any joy, he has to try to destroy it."


THE HIGHEST-PAID NEWS PERSONALITIES: Lauer's now reportedly on top of these other A-list anchors.

  • Matt Lauer: $25 million
  • Bill O'Reilly: $20 million
  • Diane Sawyer: $15 million
  • Brian Williams: $12.5 million


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