With the word that NBC correspondent Chuck Todd will replace David Gregory as the host of the withered carcass that is Meet the Press, the chattering classes left and right are offering their advice on reanimating the corpse of the once-proud Sunday talk show. Ultimately, though, there is only piece of guidance for the Beltway's new goateed gatekeeper. Simply seek the truth. Unfortunately, that is precisely the task Chuck Todd has argued is not part of his job description as a journalist.
Todd's acknowledgement that the media's role is to merely amplify the sound bites of political partisans came during a discussion of the Affordable Care Act last September. Almost four years after Politifact named "death panels" its 2009 Lie of the Year and three years since "government takeover of health care" won its 2010 crown, the future Meet the Press talking point purveyor explained to viewers that unearthing and communicating objective truth is not the media's job. When Ed Rendell lamented that Americans were misinformed about Obamacare, Todd protested:
"But more importantly, it's stuff that Republicans successfully messaged against it and they wouldn't have heard...they don't repeat other stuff because they haven't even heard the Democratic message. What I always love is people say 'it's your fault in the media.' No, it's the President of the United States' fault for not selling it."
That same day, Todd took to Twitter to repeat his point:
Somebody decided to troll w/mislding headline: point I actually made was folks shouldn't expect media to do job WH has FAILED to do re: ACA
But after eight hours of absorbing a pounding online, he returned to Twitter to clarify his clarification:
I was NOT saying it isn't job of journos to call out lies, I said it was not job of media to sell WH's health care message, it is WH's job
Despite that embarrassing episode, Chuck Todd hasn't always represented a net subtraction from the sum of human knowledge. He has, in fact, committed acts of journalism. As the GOP's "Defund Obamacare" campaign ramped up over the summer of 2013, Todd used his NBC "First Read" column to actively illuminate rather than passively mislead. As he put it on July 9:
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Here's a thought exercise on this summer morning: Imagine that after the controversial Medicare prescription-drug legislation was passed into law in 2003, Democrats did everything they could to thwart one of George W. Bush's top domestic achievements. They launched Senate filibusters to block essential HHS appointees from administering the law; they warned the sports and entertainment industries from participating in any public service announcements to help seniors understand how the law works; and, after taking control of the House of Representatives in 2007, they used the power of the purse to prohibit any more federal funds from being used to implement the law. As it turns out, none of that happened.
That's exactly right. Despite their opposition to the Part D legislation, Democrats didn't just refuse to obstruct Bush's wildly unpopular and completely unfunded $400 billion windfall for insurers and pharmaceutical firms. In Washington and in the states, Democrats helped ensure the successful implementation of a Republican program whose 2006 launch even John Boehner acknowledged was "horrendous."
Todd was right to highlight the polar opposite partisan responses to President Bush's Medicare Modernization Act of 2003 and President Obama's Affordable Care Act of 2010 to provide Americans with context for the unprecedented Republican obstruction of Obamacare. The truth, it turns out, will set you free.
And seeking the truth-- not fluffing John McCain's pillow--is exactly what "junkie" Chuck Todd the "virtual vacuum sweeper when it comes to political facts, figures and analysis" should do every Sunday morning.
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