By Chez Pazienza: When it comes to the not-so-subtle art of spinning tantalizing link-bait out of thin air nobody’s better — and by better I mean more shameless — than the Huffington Post. God bless them, they really know how to get you to point-and-click against all better judgment, whether by offering the promise of sideboob or simply throwing up a teaser headline as nebulous but undeniable as “HE SAID WHAT?!” So with that in mind there was no way I could resist something in HuffPo that implored me to “Watch Chuck Todd’s Emotional Plea,” one which had apparently happened this past Sunday on NBC’s Meet the Press. If you haven’t seen for yourself what all the fuss is about, trust me, it’s nowhere near as moving or powerful as Huffington or anyone else would have you believe. It is, however, mildly aggravating — particularly if you’re somebody like me who spends a good amount of time beating himself in the head with a phonebook over just how pathetic and worthless political journalism on TV has become.
Basically, what Todd took it upon himself to passionately entreat Dancing David Gregory and his usual panel of Beltway hacks for was an end to all the conspiracy theories. He spoke up during a discussion of last week’s jobs report numbers, his voice seeming to falter slightly, and talked about how “crazy” it made him that we’ve become a nation so polarized politically that any victory for one side can be viewed with unrelenting suspicion by the other, despite there being no evidence of corruption. I’m not sure whether Todd actually was on the verge of tears — he may have simply had to catch his breath — but he did seem pretty butt-hurt that trust in our government was being “corroded” in the name of scoring partisan points at all costs.
The problem, of course, is that rather than pouting about all the liberties taken with empirical reality by the most tawdry of political provocateurs these days, Chuck Todd should be shooting giant, gaping holes in their bullshit. That is, after all, his job. Todd acts as though he’s not in a unique position to blow out of the water every single conspiracy theory offered up as an alternative to provable fact. He and his fellow political reporters can ensure that nothing that escapes, say, the fabulist mouth of an asshole like Donald Trump can gain the least bit of traction nationally — and yet they often choose to pretend as if every opinion, no matter how divorced from reality, has value and is worthy of consideration.
What I found interesting as I watched the ridiculous jobs numbers conspiracy theory begin to coalesce last Friday was where it initially began and who first put it out there. It’s widely recognized that Jack Welch, former GE CEO, kicked the whole meme into high gear with a tweet that alluded to the October jobs report being cooked by “these Chicago guys” who’ll do anything to win the upcoming election. To his credit, Chris Matthews put Welch on the spot during an interview later that day on MSNBC, asking him if he had any evidence at all to back up such a breathtakingly irresponsible claim; Welch responded by pulling a dodge that should be familiar by now to anyone who follows Fox News regularly — namely, he said that didn’t have any proof at all, he was simply asking the question.
What was entertaining about the Matthews-Welch one-on-one was that it was tough to watch without wondering whether NBC would’ve been as willing to question Welch so vigorously had he still been in charge of GE and therefore in charge of NBC. Back when I used to work for NBC in the late 90s, Welch was revered within the company; his Six Sigma business model was gospel and you had to demonstrably prostrate yourself before it at all times regardless of the fact that television, TV news in particular, wasn’t like any other “product” the company was manufacturing. NBC News, somewhat notoriously, stayed away from most stories that had the potential to make GE look very bad, much to the dismay of the responsible members of the editorial staff.
But now here was the great and powerful Jack Welch, the man who once pulled the strings behind the NBC curtain, taking an at least minor beating on MSNBC at the hands of a guy whose boss he once was. While it was refreshing to see the network use its obvious pull with Welch to get him to sit down for an interview, I couldn’t help but wonder whether it would’ve happened had Welch still been in charge. Certainly, there’s the possibility that Welch, as the de facto head of NBC News, wouldn’t have even said what he did in the first place, knowing that a massive conflict of interest would be at play. But Welch’s ego is as big as his bank account so it’s entirely likely he wouldn’t have stifled his first, really stupid reaction. As to whether NBC News would have the colossal balls to debate the apparent senility of its parent company’s CEO on live television — that’s anyone’s guess.
The bottom line, though, is that the only reason conspiracy theories like the one that actually became a story on Friday are allowed to flourish is that they often go unchallenged, or at the very least they’re not immediately and fully swatted down before they can gain traction. We already know that Fox News and its conservative media satellites will brazenly push any narrative that lines up with its intractable worldview, no matter how detached from reality it happens to be. (Example: On Friday, the headline at Fox News’s website actually asked, without a shred of evidence, whether the jobs report was “real.”) But it’s the job of every other news organization — excuse me, every real news organization — to not treat each claim offered up by a flunky with a political ax to grind as legitimate.
Until the responsible press starts doing its job and keeping these conspiracist clowns and their win-at-all-costs tactics in check, guys like Chuck Todd aren’t allowed to complain. He’s heartbroken that our political discourse is being hijacked and it’s threatening the welfare of the country? He has only himself to blame.
Update:This. I rest my case.
Chez Pazienza was the beating heart of The Daily Banter, sadly passing away on February 25, 2017. His voice remains ever present at the Banter, and his influence as powerful as ever.