It wasn’t just Buffalo’s NFL Wild Card loss yesterday that got me thinking about long-suffering Bills fan Tim Russert, who set the gold standard for a tough but fair Sunday news show interviewer. When Chuck Todd eventually became his successor on Meet the Press, I was heartened. For years, Todd had been a data-driven analyst whose trenchant reporting was consistently a high point of election night coverage. Sadly, in his new role as moderator, Todd has fallen into a trap that has bedeviled many of his cable news media brethren and sistren.
At Christmastime, he gave an interview with Rolling Stone that has been characterized as “explosive, embarrassing, enraging and just plain weird.” Todd admitted to being naïve and having been used by guests skilled in purveying Republican disinformation messages. Kellyanne Conway had introduced the idea of “alternative facts” on Todd’s program, which he did challenge, but over the past three years, according to Rolling Stone and Jay Rosen, Todd has failed to fight back against the weaponization of disinformation. As a superficial antidote to charges he’s been guilty of “willful blindness,” (he still uses the term “misinformation” rather than “disinformation”) he produced and broadcast an improved December 29 special program ostensibly designed to say he now understood the game at hand and henceforth would do better. Here was a cause for hope.
But alas, in this morning’s very first show of the new year, he has reverted to type. He let Secretary of State Mike Pompeo run roughshod over him, essentially unchallenged. Pompeo proclaimed: “We’re definitely safer today, 100 percent certainty that America is safer today.” Todd, without using Russert-like follow-up questioning, fact-checking and putting on the screen the guest’s (or, in this case, Trump’s) contradictory previous statements tepidly asked about possible retaliation.
Pompeo blustered forward: “It may be there’s a little noise here in the interim, that the Iranians make the choice to respond. I hope that they don’t. President Trump has made clear what we will do in response if they do.”
Todd had a legitimate question, which he seemed to be trying to ask, about Trump’s wild tweet threatening to commit war crime destruction of Iranian cultural monuments, but Pompeo wouldn’t let him interrupt, and, when Todd had a chance to talk, he never asked that question or pressed him for a non-talking-point answer. Nor did he ever ask Pompeo why anyone should believe Trump’s “evidence” now when the President so regularly lies to the American people and the world.
Any viewer would have been far better served by watching an excellent discussion of the Iranian situation on CNN’s GPS (Global Public Square) with Fareed Zakaria, consistently the best foreign policy program on television, with wide-ranging experts instead of political stooges.
Todd didn’t get any better after the Pompeo segment concluded. Todd wasted precious time asking Democratic Senator Mark Warner if the Senate could handle Iran and impeachment at the same time. Better to have asked Warner if any Republican senator has expressed concerns about Trump’s shortsighted recklessness, which could endanger American lives and put the nation’s security interests at serious risk. Might such concerns cause a rethinking of GOP hesitancy to remove the President from office and replace him with a relatively more stable Mike Pence?
Sadly, Todd’s brief Christmas insight appears to have gone the way of New Year’s diet resolutions or Tom Brady’s hopes for another Super Bowl. We already know the dangers of social media. We should also be aware that broadcast and cable news media coverage of 2020 politics could be even more pernicious. I do miss Tim Russert.