August 18, 2014

Journalism professor Jay Rosen spoke for most of us, I think, when he offered his reasons for David Gregory's failure to keep Meet the Press at the top of the ratings on Sunday mornings. He also echoed all of you who offered serious (and some unserious) suggestions for Chuck Todd to turn the sinking ship around.

His indictment of Gregory was swift and sharp. Rosen observed, "[Gregory] showed a very strange sort of almost fatal lack of self-awareness in that he was unable to make sense of any of the criticism of him." Unable or intentional? I think he was able if he chose to be able.

He's being too kind, but I'll grant the overall point. But how does this change with Chuck Todd at the helm?

According to Rosen and Sesno, it begins with a willingness to force the guests to move on past the spin into some facts. That will require Chuck to abandon his "not my job to fact-check" position in favor of having facts at his disposal and not being afraid to use them. Or as Sesno said, interrupting guests with a quick "Hang on a second...Senator Windbag. "

I know many were fans of Tim Russert. I wasn't a regular viewer of any Sunday show until I started writing posts here, but Tim Russert didn't impress me all that much on the few times I watched it. He was more combative, but that didn't translate into much truth escaping the guests at a given time.

Chuck Todd is a horserace fan. He made a name for himself calling the race in 2008. Facts weren't especially relevant to what he did then, and since then he hasn't distinguished himself with them either. David Gregory's lack of self-awareness aside, he also had a peculiar talent for framing questions and issues in right-wing frames with amorphous sources, just like every other Sunday show.

Rosen and Sesno's conversation was a good one, but I don't have a lot of hope there will be much change at MTP. When you're inside, you're inside. You begin to believe you know more than your audience might, and so the information rolls out according to a set of pre-conceived notions, just as when Chuck Todd defended his "not a fact-checker" claim by spinning it into "not my job to do the White House's job."

I think Rosen's advice is good advice and Chuck should listen to it. But a trip through our archives yielded some specific suggestions for Chuck to make the show a success.

Get rid of lazy frames. Lose the questions that start with "some say" or "sources report" and lean into facts as a starting point. And for the love of all that's holy, have facts at your fingertips and don't be afraid to use them. No more "I can't figure it out" declarations. If I can figure out what the "Obama Doctrine" is, Chuck can too.

"Both sides" don't do it. Don't start with the assumption they do. This is a perfect example of an insider attitude.

Have some respect for the people out there who spend a lot of time researching money in politics and how it taints them along with other important issues instead of dismissing them as "crazy bloggers."

Quit letting DC insiders work the refs. Right-wingers do it all the time, just like Robert Gibbs did with his "Professional Left" nonsense. Learn to recognize and ignore it.

Don't be a mouthpiece for policy negotiations. Case in point: Asking whether Democrats should give Republicans everything they want in exchange for UI extensions assumes there's any good-faith negotiation in the first place. Better you should report on the way Democrats give up the store and get nothing in return, or even better yet, how much harm is done to people because of negotiations like these.

Pay attention to history rather than what happens in the moment. Your take on filibuster reform ignored the reasons why it was required. You can't do that.

Resist the temptation to pretend there is equivalence between two points of view, such as when you compared Democrats' opposition to privatizing Social Security to Republicans' obstruction of ACA implementation. There is no equivalence there.

Get out of the Beltway. Talk to real people. Pay attention to your critics. After all, we'd actually love to see Meet the Press become relevant, hard-hitting and an important political resource for everyone. That won't happen until someone makes a decision to move past the talking points, the spin, and the horse race.

Finally, a brief note for Deborah Turness, president of NBC News. If you were in charge of recent bookings on MTP as was recently reported, turn back now. What we do not need is more Lindsey Graham/John McCain warmongering, or panelists like Ron Fournier. Get out! Find some new voices, or listen to viewers who have suggestions.

Or, hire new bookers. That works too. It would have been refreshing to see Rick Perlstein on a MTP segment, but I'll bet your current bookers haven't even heard of him. Maybe you should consult with Maddow and Chris Hayes' producers for some more diverse voices.

This is your opportunity to shatter our skepticism. Will you do it, or will MTP just die a lingering and painful death?

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