When he’s not writing books about sad, lonely President Barack Obama, Chuck Todd is the political director for NBC News and moderator of that organization’s flagship political news show, Meet The Press, where he landed after a long stint as Chief White House Correspondent. As a mainstream media news presence, Todd gets a lot of grief from both sides of the political spectrum, a great deal of it from here, but unlike many of his colleagues, Chuck has show na willingness to engage, to listen. Chuck kicked off his Meet The Press tenure with a blockbuster interview with President Obama, but his transition was marked by something even more significant that didn’t get much attention. In the first weeks of his new job, he has done a veritable “full Ginsburg” of interviews with media watchdogs, including a three-parter with Media Matters, a two-parter with Breitbart News, and a long sit-down with Newsmax’s Steve Malzberg.
In the tradition of our Members Only White House coverage, I’m going to try and help you get to know him better. Then, you can still disagree with him, but at least maybe you’ll know where he’s coming from.
The first time I met Chuck Todd was in 2008, at the airport in Denver as we headed home from the Democratic National Convention. Actually, it might have been in Newark, I was pretty fried, and so was Chuck. I was on my way back from my first big-boy journalism trip for AOL, and Chuck was obviously there in his role as political director. At the time, he was much more of a behind-the-scenes presence, but I recognized him, and I knew that my girlfriend at the time would be impressed that I’d met him. She loved political media figures, the wonkier the better, so I accosted Chuck for a selfie before selfies were a thing (see pic above).
All I remember from that meeting is that I was stoked, Chuck was exhausted, and I remember he said what most people said to me back then: “Really? I didn’t know AOL did news.” That, and he seemed genuinely surprised to be recognized.
A few months later in December, Todd was assigned to the White House beat, where I would end up in February of 2009. As it happened, Chuck’s was the first face I saw when I showed up to the White House for my first-ever press conference, and the Secret Service wouldn’t let him in.
As a super-green reporter trying to break into a super-prestigious beat, I felt a lot of hostility from other reporters (probably deserved), but Chuck was always really great to me. When I got fired by AOL over a story I’d written, Chuck was among a handful of White House reporters who supported and encouraged me through the several weeks of limbo between jobs. Through the years, he’s been a great, and patient, source of advice and friendship.
We’ve also had many a conversation about the different ways we view certain news stories, politics, and journalism in general. Most of those conversations were private and off the record, but I think it’s indicative of Chuck’s utter lack of ego that he would suffer the opinion of an overtly ideological rookie, let alone entertain it. One thing that separates Chuck Todd from a lot of his colleagues is that he actually cares what other people think, not about him, but just what they think. And he listens.
One of the weird things about my job, though, is that my colleagues are also, often, my news subjects. The explosion of media reporting is a relatively new phenomenon, and it’s one that Chuck has never been that comfortable with. Like a lot of experienced reporters, he doesn’t want to be the story, and in fact, when I first asked him to interview for me, couldn’t even fathom why anyone would want him to be. That I asked him to was enough, and he sat for a pair of interviews for me in 2010. After media reporting became a much hotter landscape, TV media outlets became much stingier about letting the talent be interviewed, and my publication, in particular, was often singled out for wariness, my own reputation notwithstanding.
Knowing that, and knowing how Chuck hates to be the headline, I didn’t press him much for interviews after this, mostly because I’d have to be rooting for him not to say anything good. The other thing about Chuck Todd is that he’s honest. The only reason he’s not making a huge headline every day is that he’s an essentially level-headed guy, not because he’s holding anything back.
In our first interview, from March of 2010, I concentrated on journalism and the White House beat, and Chuck made some great observations about how the WH press corps operates, and some great advice about asking questions in the briefing. He also had a bunch to say about opinion journalism, which got a big reaction at the time, and at around the ten-minute mark, he speaks tellingly about media bias.
About a month later, Chuck sat down for me again to do a lighter interview for a men’s magazine I was freelancing for. Say what you will, but I bet no other reporter will ever get you footage of Chuck Todd’s awesome Luke Skywalker impression, or of his explanation of his porn name, “Honkie Bernstein.” Keep your eyes open for cameos by Ed Henry, Hans Nichols, and I think that’s The Daily Beast‘s Patricia Murphy tapping out a story in the briefing room in the second half of the interview.