Chuck Todd Accidentally Tells the Truth

NBC’s Meet the Press isn’t exactly the cutting edge of journalism these days, but on yesterday’s episode, host Chuck Todd said something really, really insightful.

During a panel discussion about how and why Americans are so cynical about our corporate-owned media, Todd told comedian Lewis Black that if he “barks” at politicians - AKA asks them tough questions - they won’t come back on his show.

Amazing, right?

The host of probably the most influential Sunday show in the country basically admitted that he won't do hard-hitting interviews because he knows that lying politicians will refuse to come back on his show if he calls out their lies. And, for a show like Meet the Press, if no politician will come on the air, there's no show. This, in a nutshell, is everything that’s wrong with the American media, and it’s a clear demonstration of how badly broken our political and media cultures have become.

Remember, the Founding Fathers wrote the First Amendment to the Constitution so that the press could speak truth to power and challenge the political establishment. Some of the Founders actually believed that having a free press was more important than having a government.

Thomas Jefferson, for example, once said that, “Were it left to me to decide whether we should have a government without newspapers, or newspapers without a government, I should not hesitate a moment to prefer the latter.” And Jefferson was tormented by the newspapers of his era! Those are powerful words, and they’re still relevant today, more than 200 years later.

Thanks to the rise of corporate media that's owned and run not for news but for profits, the kind of adversarial, power-smashing press that revolutionaries like Thomas Jefferson put into the First Amendment to protect is basically shot to hell. Although independent media outlets like Truthout and Glenn Greenwald’s The Intercept are still out there speaking truth to power, mainstream media like NBC has become merely another money-making business, a business that cares more about access and entertainment - which produces profits - than it does about keeping the public informed - which only helps us have a functioning democracy.

This is a huge threat to our nation. The press has historically been the means by which “We the People” keep the political and corporate elite in check.

We only need to look across the pond to the United Kingdom - the nation from which we declared our independence - to see how differently the mainstream media in other countries deal with the rich and powerful. The BBC has a fantastic show called HARDtalk that features challenging and hard-hitting interviews with big name politicians and business leaders. HARDTalk’s hosts pull no punches, and get right to the point.

During one recent episode, for example, host Steven Sackur asked former Defense Secretary Robert Gates if his tell-all memoir about his time in the Obama administration was really just a way to avoid responsibility for some of the White House’s foreign policy failures. That’s the kind of hard-hitting, tough journalism that the American people deserve, but aren’t getting, from programs like Meet the Press, because our modern corporate networks care more about putting on a spectacle - even if it involves lying politicians getting away with their lies - than they care about holding their guests accountable.

The problem here is simple. While mainstream American media outlets may have a constitutional right to do their job, they’re failing at that job. A "free press" (to paraphrase the First Amendment) is only effective when journalists seriously question and challenge power, and none of our networks do that anymore.

The roots of this problem are deep, and have to do with Reagan suspending the Fairness Doctrine and the Sherman Anti-Trust Act, numerous changes in media ownership rules at the FCC and through Congress, and Bill Clinton signing the Telecommunications Act of 1996. It's time for a serious discussion in America about the role of our news media, so we can once again have the adversarial type of press that actually holds those in power accountable on behalf of “We The People.”

Chuck Todd may have inadvertently started that conversation, although it's most likely that the corporate media will totally ignore his moment of accidental truth-telling.


Combad57's picture
Combad57 8 years 13 weeks ago

Thank goodness for Free Speech TV and documentaries like the 4 Horsemen.

Frank_Kremshire's picture
Frank_Kremshire 8 years 13 weeks ago

The Corporate owned media has an agenda to meet. I have yet to hear any local media reporting the work that John Bolenbaugh has done for our community for the last four years here in Michigan after Enbridge leaked between 844,000 and 1.1 million gals. of tar sand oil into the waterways from Marshall to Kalamazoo. John did not take a settlement offered. He wanted a Jury trial for the people of his community effected by this spill. Judge Kingsley let our community down just weeks before retiring. You can read a summery of his story at or go to his website at 

bobbler's picture
bobbler 8 years 13 weeks ago

I used to think big business money in politics was the single most urgent problem in America. Now I know beyond any doubt its the corporate media ownership, that makes the voting public STUPID AND DYSFUNCTIONAL; in other words, a high enough percentage of voters have become drones (to media propaganda) having the opinions big money wants them to hold near and dear (as though their own opinions). So the voters say ok to citizens united, and anything corporations want. This is an intolerable situation, because Americans have lost their freedom, and become nothing more than a cog in a wheel of the profit making engine of multi national corporations.

kentw's picture
kentw 8 years 13 weeks ago

Todd's slip shouldn't be news to anyone. There is very little political news, except for very superficial accounts, in the mainstream media. It has been a disgrace for years. I no longer depend for information from those sources. Thankfully, we do not have to rely on a single or one of a very few sources.

Gary Reber's picture
Gary Reber 8 years 13 weeks ago

This is another fundamental reason why citizens must become empowered as owners to meet their own consumption needs and financial security and government would become more dependent on economically independent citizens, thus reversing current global trends where all citizens will eventually become dependent for their economic well-being on our only legitimate social monopoly –– the State –– and whatever elite capital ownership class controls the coercive powers of government and our communications.

RichardofJeffersonCity's picture
RichardofJeffer... 8 years 13 weeks ago

Meet the Press has always been an Oprah couch of safety for politicians. Name the last time anybody was seriously challenged on Meet the Press?

What Chuck Todd said has never been a secret to anybody with any amount of sense. The open admission to establishment friendly commentary with absolutely no scrutiny shouldn't surprise anybody. The surprise should be that anybody takes this kind of "journalism" seriously, if it can be called journalism at all.

A show called Meet the Press shouldn't have politicians waiting at the door for a friendly sit down with a collaborating host placing questions on a tee for politicians to knock out of the park.

In a democratic society (purely hypothetical), a show called Meet the Press would be an unwelcoming, challenging and combative forum with politicians only present because a democratic public demands they be held to account, however, capitalist control will never all for such scrutiny of the established political class.

2950-10K's picture
2950-10K 8 years 13 weeks ago

He might be well paid, but Chuck Todd is still a mere tool of the arbitrary power that currently runs this country. His job, like his Fox News peers, is to make sure the truth behind the cause of economic and social injustice never sees the light of day. However the truth will eventually find that light of day, and when it does, the well paid tools like Todd who have played a role in the disinformation that has brought down our representative democracy will be exposed for the shills they are.

Shawno Buzzello's picture
Shawno Buzzello 8 years 13 weeks ago

Let me guess. Now after Chuck's slip up, NBC will eventually be turning the 'Meet the Press' helm over to another Russert. That being Luke?

meg goodwin's picture
meg goodwin 8 years 13 weeks ago

The sad reality is no one is watching the so called News any more. It doesn't matter who they put on. Kids don't care, they get their news from Jon Stewart.

We need to teach civics again!

vafrmmd's picture
vafrmmd 8 years 13 weeks ago

It troubles me when you take such liberty interpreting Mr Todd's statement:

"Todd told comedian Lewis Black that if he “barks” at politicians - AKA asks them tough questions - they won’t come back on his show. Amazing, right? The host of probably the most influential Sunday show in the country basically admitted that he won't do hard-hitting interviews because he knows that lying politicians will refuse to come back on his show if he calls out their lies."

As prolific a writer and activist that you are it must be excedingly tempting to do this, however I suggest greater separation between your opinion and someone else's statements. In the midst of addressing mainstream media's failings, which are considerable, it would be better to lead by example.

Legend 8 years 13 weeks ago

Who watches Meet the Press? It is a nothing show of interviews with John McCain and the like that like to pound their chests and bash Obama. Why watch that?

DAnneMarc's picture
DAnneMarc 8 years 13 weeks ago
Quote meg goodwin:

The sad reality is no one is watching the so called News any more. It doesn't matter who they put on. Kids don't care, they get their news from Jon Stewart.

We need to teach civics again!

meg goodwin ~ Very well said. I think that the same can be said of some of us not so young kids too. Stewart and Colbert have so much more objectivity and substance to their satirical art of presenting the news that it just goes to show how really bad "official network media infotainment" has become. For the most part, I get my news from the internet. There are so many more sources there that I've grown to trust and know how to cross reference that I get a much better picture of what is going on, more perspectives, and save a vast amount of time and energy sifting through it all. Also, it is interactive. If I don't agree with something I can leave a comment behind. Whoo Hoo! Even though TV news was much more accurate, fair, and balanced when I was growing up, I always resented not being able to talk back to the TV source and have my voice heard. Now I can. Besides, nowadays, who has time to plant themselves in front of the boob tube and vegetate on nonsense? I much prefer being able to participate in it. Much more healthy for the body and the mind!

News Junkie 8 years 13 weeks ago

There is very little "news" available without purchasing expensive higher-tier programming packages (we don't want the masses to actually become informed) from providers such as direct tv, dish, comcast, time-warner, etc. There is quite a bit of coalition-building partisan opinion upon the rare "news" items. Radio is similarly barren, with few actual "news" outlets. News is who, what, where, when, how, and sometimes why. Meet the Press is long on opinion as to why, while lacking any of the former pieces of news. Legend's comment hits the nail on the head, and to answer, all the anchors at Fox, MSNBC, CBS, and a few at CNN watch Meet The Press to have filler for their lack of actual news, and rehash the comments all week long with secondary speculation upon the original speculation.

The piece by Thom makes me nostalgic for Helen. Here's a favorite quote, from a Bill Moyers transcript of Jan. 16, 2004:

"Well, Al Neuharth, the founder of USA Today had an interview with Fidel Castro a couple of years ago. And he asked Castro, "Now, what's the difference between your democracy and ours?" And Castro said, "I don't have to answer questions from Helen Thomas."

ChicagoMatt 8 years 13 weeks ago
We need to teach civics again!

I happen to teach civics. Middle school social studies that is. I try to get the students to think critically. I've even had them read some of Thom's opinion pieces, and then read opinion pieces on the same topic from the other side of the political spectrum.

And the student thought process is always the same: "What's the least amount of work I can do to get through this assignment, so that I can move on to something I actually care about."

I don't know if this is a new phenomenon (I've been in education for over a decade now), or maybe it's just the population I work with, but the overwhelming majority of young people I've encounter just don't give a damn about anything other than their social lives and making money.

If I could ask my current and former students anonomously, "What are your life goals?" their top two answers would be: 1. get laid, 2. get paid.

Granted, those things would be in my top ten life goals as well. :) But not the top two. I'd throw in things like "help the less fortunate" and "let my children know I love them". And "lose weight".

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