An Ode to Softhearted Matt Lauer’s Secret Ninja Side

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Photo: iStockphoto, Larry Marano/Getty Images

Oh, Matt Lauer. How you've grown from the man who visibly gulped and forced yourself to press on when you had to ask Hillary Clinton about Monica Lewinsky for the first time back in 1998. Now you are truly one of the most entertaining interviewers of our era. Most of the time, you have a soft touch, which is why someone like Sandra Bullock rushes to you when they have to face the press after their husband cheated on them by having sex with a human tattoo on a dirty garage floor. Or why someone like Elizabeth Edwards selected you when she wanted to promote her book about how her husband cheated on her with a human helium balloon while she had cancer.

This is all well and good, and plays to the interests of the Today show's largely female morning audience. But Matt Lauer has another side, a far more wickedly fun aspect to his interviewing style, that only comes out every so often — like when he reportedly pinned down George Bush earlier this week. And this, his secret ninja side, is why we truly love Matt Lauer. Remember not long ago when he took on former gubernatorial candidate and current homophobic moron Carl Paladino? From minute one of the interview, he called the mumbling and nonsensical Paladino out for his statement that homosexuality wasn't a "valid or successful option," and accused him of fostering discrimination with his comments. Shadow kick!

And then, who could forget the time not long ago when Lauer went toe-to-toe with momager Dina Lohan? The woman couldn't even answer one of the simple questions he asked in a straightforward manner. She didn't even know how many times her own daughter has been in rehab, for instance. She even boasted about how Lindsay had become friends with "alleged murderers"! But the money moment came when Matt asked, "You don't think [Lindsay] deserves time in jail?" And Dina replied: "Well, not for this particular offense." Hadouken!

Oh, plus there was that time that he nailed Karl Rove repeatedly for glossing over inconsistencies in the reporting of WMDs in Iraq in the buildup to the war, reading account after account of how top experts thought there was no such thing, and how Bush had made up his mind to go to war anyway. Dragon Punch!

And perhaps best of all was the time when Lauer called Tom Cruise to the mat (oy) over his comments that Brooke Shields was "misguided" for taking Paxil to overcome postpartum depression. Cruise was weirdly, demonically chipper (as his semi-dazed new wife, Katie Holmes, looked on) as he talked about the plague of public attention in his life, and then the interview descended into the truly weird. (The whole video is uncomfortable-making, but for the real fight scroll ahead to eight minutes in.) When Lauer tries to nail Cruise down on whether postpartum depression is "psychological gobbledygook," the actor goes into full-on Scientology crazy mode, lashing out and calling Lauer glib and saying that vitamins and exercise can cure everything. "Why is taking anti-depressants wrong if it worked for Brooke Shields?" asked the doe-eyed anchor. Snappeth Tom, "Because I disagree with it!" Ice Freeze!

Now, Matt has caught flack at times for not using these ninja styles frequently enough, like when he apologetically softballed Larry Craig and let sister-network stars the Salahis off the hook. But if news reports are to believed, we are going to see another such sneak attack from Lauer on George W. Bush on Monday when he appears in an NBC interview special with the anchor. In the interview, Lauer asks Bush about a statement in his book Decision Points in which he says that Kanye West saying "George Bush doesn't care about black people" was the worst moment of his presidency. Though the former president tries to cut him off, Lauer manages to ask: "You're not saying that the worst moment in your presidency was watching the misery in Louisiana. You're saying it was when someone insulted you because of that??" Fatalityyyyy!