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Bravo? Not so for Lauer and the Salahis during Tuesday's Today show interview

Unrepentant: The Salahis and Matt Lauer on Today. Photo: Ed Bark

Shame on Matt Lauer. Not so much for interviewing the fame-craving Salahis "exclusively and extensively" on Tuesday's Today. But for failing to ask an essential question that cuts to the heart of NBC Universal's relationship with the alleged State Dinner party crashers.

It had been reported that Michaele and Tareq Salahi were trying to negotiate a big payday for their first TV interview after bagging out on Monday night's edition of CNN's Larry King Live. So Lauer asked them right at the top of a live interview: "Are you appearing here today in any way because of any financial deal that you have made with this network? Are we paying you for this appearance in any way?"

"No, you are not," said Michaele.

"No, absolutely not," mimicked Tareq, who ended up doing the bulk of the talking while his wife sat prettily with a silver cross around her neck.

Furthermore, Michaele said, "At no time, Matt, have we ever even talked about doing that with anyone."

Unidentified television network executives told The New York Times otherwise in a story published Sunday. But whether you believe the Salahis or not -- and I emphatically don't -- it's unbelievable that Lauer never even mentioned the reason they were at the White House in the first place.

Representatives of the Bravo cable network, owned by NBC Universal, have acknowledged filming the Salahis on the day and night they successfully made their way into last Tuesday's State Dinner, where they were photographed with President Obama and Vice President Joe Biden among others. Bravo also has confirmed that Michaele is "under consideration as a cast member" for the network's upcoming Real Housewives of D.C., for which the "talent" hasn't yet been finalized.

Lauer made no mention of Bravo or Real Housewives of D.C.. He didn't ask Michaele whether she still hoped to be a part of the series. He didn't ask whether their agreement to be interviewed on Today was in any way tied to assurances that Michaele indeed would make the Real Housewives cut. In short he blew it big-time.

The Salahis indeed may not have any "financial deal with this network," namely NBC. But how about with Bravo? How about "future considerations" in return for making yourself exclusive to NBC's Today, as the Salahis apparently are doing. That's easily enough done when both networks are owned by NBC Universal.

Later in the interview, Tareq said tellingly that he and his wife soon would be returning to Today to provide evidence that they had not crashed the State Dinner.

"We're going to be coming up to New York, sitting on your couch," he told Lauer via satellite from Washington, D.C. "We're going to show you documentation from emails that you'll get a chance to see."

In the interim, the Salahis supposedly have been fully cooperating with the Secret Service and are "devastated" (they repeatedly said) by their portrayal in the media.

"Our lives have been destroyed," Michaele said.

"Our lives have really been destroyed," Tareq parroted.

The couple wouldn't say who invited them to the White House, but insisted they weren't party-crashers. They also denied NBC's earlier report that they had been tossed out of a Congressional Black Caucus fundraiser after crashing it.

"Were we escorted out? Of course not," said Tareq, who then assured Lauer, "I am certain we're going to be completely exonerated."

Tareq's "estranged brother," the Florida-based Dr. Ismail Salahi, told local reporters that he was "shocked" by the State Dinner scandal, but "I don't definitely (he jumbled his words a bit) put it past him and his wife . . . They're really into the whole media thing, and they love the attention."

Lauer, generally a precise and pressing questioner when in the presence of red meat, had a responsibility to ask the Salahis about their Bravo ties. But he didn't -- and that basically invalidated the entire interview. Does he know something viewers don't know? Lauer certainly raised that question Tuesday -- basically by not asking it.