New Meet the Press host Chuck Todd will only succeed if he has enough guts to be the ultimate traitor to his permanent political and media class in Boomtown, USA.
In essence, Todd–and his show–should give the middle finger to the Acela Corridor and not to Middle America. But I’m not sure if Todd is willing to care more about the rest of America than his fellow media elites.
The biggest–and most aggravating–mistake the media elite in the so-called Acela Corridor make is not realizing that their “objectivity,” which is actually biased in favor of whatever the conventional wisdom of the day is, is actually a bi-ignorance (that’s a reference to South Carolina Republican Sen. Tim Scott’s standard speech, which Todd and his producers should be familiar with if they actually follow conservatives.) that only loses them more credibility not only with Middle America but with Americans who hold strong political views on the left and the right.
According to Gallup, which Todd knows is a reputable organization, confidence among Americans in the media to report “the news fully, accurately, and fairly” is at an all-time low. A strong plurality (44%) of Americans think the media are too liberal. And even “among Democrats, who have traditionally expressed much higher levels of confidence in the media than Republicans have,” trust in the media “dropped to a 14-year low of 54% in 2014.” And proving my point that the media are often nearly as clueless about minorities as they are about conservatives, a comprehensive Media Insight Project survey released on Tuesday found that “three-fourths of African-American news consumers and two-thirds of Hispanics have doubts about what mainstream media report about their communities.” The only people who trust the media seem to be Todd’s media elite and the politicians in the permanent political class whom they never challenge.
Todd can be the late Tim Russert’s rightful heir who, like Russert, took over a third-place program and made it must-see TV again on Sundays. But that’s not going to happen if Todd’s playbook is St. Albans right, St. Albans left, and St. Albans middle. Ask CNN how that’s working out for them. Nearly every program on CNN, which is rivaling MSNBC to be the least trusted name in news, underperforms because the network is ignorant of its bi-ignorance.
Those with the “Boomtown” mindset often pat themselves on the back when they anger both sides. They think that is a vindication of their “objective” reporting. In reality, though, it probably means they are creatures of the permanent establishment class, only concerned with the opinions of very set of Acela Corridor natives that Todd conceded has failed America.
Case in point: when Meet The Press announced its first set of regular panelists, conservatives were irate. But Joe Scarborough, who gets to pretend to be a conservative, Andrea Mitchell, who will pretend to be objective, and Luke Russert, who will pretend to be a knowledgeable grown-up, angered the left as well. All of them mistake access to talking points for wisdom and insight while smooching the rear ends of Boomtown’s permanent political class.
And both sides are fed up with it. Memo to Todd: These reactions from the left and right do not mean you’re succeeding.
Breitbart’s John Nolte, who is arguably the fiercest mainstream media critic on the right, called the move a “grave error” that could make the show worse. And left-wing Salon declared that “everything about the new ‘Meet the Press’ points to an even more disgusting celebration of D.C. insider culture” and “self-important Beltway insiderism.”
On last Sunday’s show, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) expressed this anger from the left.
Sanders sounded like the Howard Dean supporters from 2004 that Todd discussed in his debut appearance on the program in 2004.
In his debut appearance as a Meet The Press panelist, Todd, in reference to Dean supporters (orange beanies and all) informed the late Russert about bloggers who are essentially “troops of people” on the Internet that generate “tons of comments and engagement.”
Todd said they are probably “blogging right now while while they are watching us talking about them right now” and “no doubt probably getting mad at us.” Todd also recognized that the liberal bloggers “got very mad at NBC News” for a biased report on Dean because they felt the network “took his comments out of context.” And he noticed the similarities between them and conservative media critics.
“Reading the Dean blog is like reading Republican messaging points from years past,” Todd said in 2004. “They are very anti-media.”
But Todd has gotten considerably more Boomtown and increasingly out of touch with the politics on the left and the right as both parties have moved away from the precious center so beloved by Todd’s ilk in the press.
As Gallup found in a study published this year, Democrats have become more liberal and Republicans have become more conservative since 2000. But Todd, along with every CNN host, still wants to live in a fantasy land where most Democrats think like Evan Bayh and most Republicans think like Tom Davis and the mainstream press serve as brokers. Those are the types of candidates Americans are fed up with because they know they will compromise for the sake of compromising to perpetuate the bipartisan Washington permanent political and media class that, by Todd’s own admission, Americans increasingly are loathing.
On his inaugural show two weeks ago, Todd added BuzzFeed’s John Stanton, who was a good edition from the left. But given Todd’s history of guests on the Daily Rundown, it is unlikely that he will find an equivalent on the right. Look for “pale pastels” aligned with K-street and “reform” Republicans who have more disdain for Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX), Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-AL), Mark Levin, Rush Limbaugh, and Sarah Palin than President Barack Obama. All of them will be eager to be “Brooklyn Brawlers” on the show, selling out conservatives while the “Acela Corridor” crowd that Todd has conceded Americans loathe pats theirs heads. And that’ll be a shame.
On a recent edition of CNN’s Reliable Sources, NYU professor Jay Rosen said that “there’s a difference between the 500 or 1,000 people in Washington who are the movers and shakers, and the smaller segment of the big audience that is interested in politics. Those are two different things. And ‘Meet the Press’ and as well as the other Sunday shows sometimes seem to be about those 500 people, not the hard-core audience for politics which exists around the country.”
Todd echoed Rosen’s sentiment before his inaugural show, telling television, print, and online outlets essentially the same thing. He even admitted on Reddit that his mainstream media brethren have lost touch with Middle America.
“I certainly believe washington journalists have the same problem washington politicians have… we’ve collectively lost touch and credibility with the rest of America, outside the coasts (or as I like to say, the Acela Corridor of DC to Boston),” he said on Reddit before his inaugural show. “I think it’s about getting back out in the America between the coasts… reporting on the struggles to dig out from the Great Recession. The coasts have dug out, other small cities and big towns have not.
But actions speak louder than network-approved talking points.
Todd should ask himself whether his guests and panelists would be more suited for a Jon Huntsman, Evan Bayh (he’s not running for governor, so he’s available to be a panelist!), or Harold Ford Jr. (he can helicopter to the set) campaign. If they are, then don’t book them. Or book just one of those people at most because there isn’t much difference between the 49-yard lines. They email and eat lunch with the same people. Participate in trivia nights with the same crowd. Pat the same people’s backs. And use one of the most democratizing mediums, Twitter, to follow and talk to the same Gang of 500 folks.
Nobody wants to hear David Brooks, Doris Kearns Goodwin (unless it’s a segment about plagiarism), Fareed Zakaria (unless it’s a segment about plagiarism), et al. B.S. their way through general topics they know nothing about and revealing how out of touch with Middle America they are. And when it comes to discussing political issues, the “No Labels” guests often reveal how clueless they are about progressives, conservatives, and outsiders (memo: most people watching your program are not insiders) that they disdain. They don’t realize that nobody outside their insular bubble cares about the conventional gobbledygook that the Mark Halperins and the Mike Allens spew and the trivial minutiae they obsess over.
Earlier this year when former host David Gregory’s ratings were tanking, I wrote that CNN and Meet the Press were actually facing the same problems with Gregory at the helm:
So it is beyond fitting that Gregory is co-hosting a Wednesday No Labels panel with CNN’s Dana Bash, another creature of the permanent political class. Gregory also reportedly has met with CNN honcho Jeff Zucker about a possible gig at a network that would actually be a perfect fit for the conventional Gregory since most reporters, guests, hosts and pundits on the network just smugly parrot conventional wisdom that is found between the 49-yard lines. In fact, CNN even doubled down on Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) just a week after Todd refreshingly declared that his show would, to the best extent possible, be a zone free of “elected pundits” like McCain and his sidekick Sen. Lindsay Graham (R-SC).
But so far, Todd has been all talk and no action. After Joe Scarborough, Todd’s “Republican” panelist last week was none other than Mike Murphy, the McCain ally and Jeb Bush adviser who roves in and out of Mitt Romney’s inner circle.
If Todd is going to convince himself that he is doing something right whenever he simultaneously angers Nolte on the right and Salon on the left, he may as well just stick a fork in the program. Take the show over to CNN, rename it Crossfire (how’s that show’s “Boomtown” playbook doing?), and let it sink with the least trusted name in news. Or just hand the keys to Luke Russert and let him wreck the show for good. It would be symbolic in more ways than one.