This is reprehensible behavior and should be universally condemned--Lauer's, I mean. Does anyone believe his stunt was motivated by anything other than Olympian self-regard? Negative ads serve a useful purpose. They draw distinctions that help people who don't spend all day watching PBS and poring over policy papers make decisions about who to vote for. Yes, yes, some are crass. So what? Voters are grown up enough to punish candidates who overdo it. If you can't stand the televised assault, there's always Netflix.
What's far more grating, though, is Lauer's affectation, his presumption to being the Great Healer who will cleanse our coarsened political culture. (I didn't like it any better when Jon Stewart got all pious about "Crossfire.") Lauer's supposed to be a journalist, or at least a "morning journalist," which is kind of a quasi-journalist. I don't see "The Today Show" devoting serious airtime to the nightmare of California's ballot system and the damage that's done to the state.
No, better to make cheap, saintly appeals to the audience and then maybe, I don't know, the candidates will spend this last week penitently volunteering in soup kitchens, or maybe tickling each other with daisies. If I were Jerry Brown and Meg Whitman, I'd join hands across the great partisan divide, pool my vast resources, and cut a really nasty ad attacking Matt Lauer.