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NBC’s Andrea Mitchell & Chuck Todd On Journalism, Politics & How To Talk To Voters In 2018 (Exclusive Q&A)

The day before midterm elections at NBC’s offices in 30 Rockefeller Plaza is exactly as manic and magnetic as you’d expect. Lots of bodies, lots of screens — there’s eyes on all the races you’ve been hearing about non-stop all summer. Considering the sheer number of nail-biting races going down across the United States that will very likely determine the direction of the next two years (at least), it’s no surprise that their team is hunkered TF down and ready to report it all as it happens. 

Her Campus was able to snag a bit of this time away from some veteran journalists — Chief Foreign Affairs Correspondent Andrea Mitchell and Political Director and Host of NBC’s Meet The Press Chuck Todd — on Monday afternoon to talk about their work, their advice to young journalists (covering midterms, politics and beyond) and WTF they’ve been seeing during this much-hyped first midterms season under the Trump administration. 

This interview has been edited & condensed.

Her Campus: First of all, we wanted to hear your ‘There and Back Again’ stories. How did you get started in political journalism? What got you to where we’re sitting right now? 

Andrea Mitchell: The first story I wrote was for my home-town newspaper, I was the school reporter when I was 12, in sixth grade, and I had my byline every Friday — “This is what’s happening in the schools.” It was in my blood. I just loved writing.

And then in college I ended up running the college radio station. In 1964, I was just starting out and they sent me to New York to do radio broadcasts for the 1964 election. Would you believe? And so politics has always just been a part of my life. Our parents were very political. We just talked and argued at the table from all different directions. I just think what you’re doing now in college is so important because it becomes part of you. It’s in your blood. And the elections you cover now will be the elections you always remember.

“I just think what you’re doing now in college is so important because it becomes part of you. It’s in your blood. And the elections you cover now will be the elections you always remember.” – Andrea Mitchell

Chuck Todd: So I guess my origin story would start with: I just wanted to get into politics. I sort of stumbled into the journalism aspect of it. It was more of I came to Washington and went to look for schools to apply to in DC because I wanted to be in DC. I knew I wanted to do that. How? I don’t know. I ended up in this incredible internship with something called The Hotline and it was a trade publication or, as I like to call it, ‘the Internet before the Internet.’ We were aggregating when that wasn’t a term that anybody talked about. We called it “covering the coverage.” And at the time if you wanted to see The Des Moines Register in the same day —it was a big deal in 1992 — we could do it for you. We have these crazy things called faxes. And we got information instantaneously from newspapers who sent us faxes or “bulletin boards” — or you dialed in. I still have these sort of brain pains from the weird fax noises back in the day.

[Makes Donkey-like fax machine noise] It sounds like Eeyore.

But there’s big lessons I took away from it. Number one: Don’t be a snob about technology. Every once in a while now, as I’m getting more gray hair, I’m going “Ah! Snapchat, blah!” But then, you know, wait a minute: The reason I got my big break is because people at the Washington Post were snobs about the Internet in 1995. Some kid who was 23 years old got to do political analysis for a website called Politics Now because the big brains thought “No, I want to be in the front page of a newspaper. Why be on the Internet where it’s nothing but libertarians yelling at you?”

Well, in 1995, that is what the Internet was: libertarians yelling at you. But it was my big break and it taught me “don’t be a snob about technology” — and it’s probably the number one piece of advice that I’ve given.

HC: Damn, Be Nimble. So, to bring us back to today. You guys are in the middle of midterms season right now — or in the middle of the end. While you’ve been out in the field and working on your midterm coverage, do you have any stories, any moments that stand out or feel like This is 2018This is covering politics in 2018?

Andrea Mitchell: Well, just about any Trump rally basically because it’s so brutal and the language is so tough. It’s just amazing to hear this coming, you know, at a rally. And being called the “fake media” — that really is alarming because it’s dangerous. There are people on the line — our correspondents, our camera crews, all of our people, our interns, out of the country and college folks who work for us, whom we rely on so heavily — and they’re out at these rallies and there are people there who are screaming invective. When I see the images of the people behind the president, and some of them are young people, with this hate-filled rage. What is possessing them? What is making them so angry at fellow Americans who just happened to have a different point of view? That’s the argument that really drives me crazy.

So I love seeing college political activity, both activism to get out the vote, people rallying for different candidates and also writing and working on press reports in the media.

Todd: I would just say this: I’m gonna ‘glass is half full’-it a little bit on the larger picture of this Trump-era that we’re in. I’m blown away by the amount of engagement we suddenly have. You know, for decades the idea has been that we were kind of apathetic. I’d have people that I looked up to who would say “oh boy, we don’t have political activism like we had in the sixties and we don’t have political activism when we had. You don’t know what it was like unless you were there in this year and this year in 1968 or nine.”

I will say this: I do think this is a point in history where we’re re-engaged as a civil society. Again, it’s noisy. There are times where I think we’re doing it without a safety net. There is no safety net on this one. But there is this aspect — and Andrea, I think you agree — we as voters, we stumble into the right thing. It takes us a while to figure that out. But I’ve been blown away by any engagement.

Mitchell, Todd at NBC News’ offices in NYC

Let me give you one anecdote that, to me, was sort of peak 2018: So I’m going to do something we called Meet The Voters and all of the sun-belt this year is my whole obsession. I think this is the new swing area of the country. My joke is Orange County to Orange County —Orange County, Florida to Orange County, California.

I’m in Tampa. I’m in a gun store with its own range,  where people come in and so it’s pretty clear we want to meet and talk to people who care about the second amendment, who are very passionate about it. We’re outside Tampa, so you know, if a person agrees to go on camera, he clearly very much cares about his second amendment rights. And I asked him, what’s your message with your vote? And the first thing he says to me is “clean up this red tide.” 

And it was just sort of this moment where you realize:Voters don’t always wear their jersey. In fact, most voters don’t wear their jersey. We know they eventually vote their jersey color, there’s no doubt, but the issues that hit him [vary]. There are gun owners who care about being able to fish off the coast of Florida, just like there are tree huggers that want to be able to fish off the coast of Florida. It was just one of those reminders that there are still some things that we may not agree on— guns, maybe — but maybe we can agree on the environment over here and create this coalition. And then we may not agree on this, but that — that’s the way democracy works.

“It was just sort of this moment where you realize: Voters don’t always wear their jersey. In fact, most voters don’t wear their jersey. We know they eventually vote their jersey color.” – Chuck Todd

Mitchell: Even today in Georgia, in Marietta, Georgia, one of our creek correspondents was interviewing some voters and she talked to this one woman who said “My big issue is education. That’s why I really liked Stacey Abrams.” Then she had this guy who looked like a Good Old Boy. Really frankly, if you were to type-cast the way he looked. And he said I hadn’t decided… how he’s going to vote yet. She asked “what issue do you care about?” He said “I agree with her. It’s education. Georgia and was 48th out of 50 in recent ranking and we’ve got to work on education.”

It blew me away because I would’ve thought the economy jobs, anything else, the border, maybe, but education was his big issue.

Todd: That’s the reminder.

Mitchell: Don’t typecast voters.

“The caricature that the two parties have created, sometimes the caricature that some of our friends on cable television have created, ain’t America.” – Chuck Todd

Todd: The caricature that the two parties have created, sometimes the caricature that some of our friends on cable television have created, ain’t America. Just because they’re in New York studios and see one thing, the rest of us go out into the country and see something else. In that sense, it’s been a rejuvenating. Again, civil society is trying to work. It’s messy, it’s ugly, but it’s trying to work. Let’s give it a chance.

Mitchell: It’s been good to keep an open mind about everything.

HC: So what kind of advice would you have for young journalists when they’re facing down the tribalism and the caricatures. How can they tell the right stories and report responsibly?

Mitchell: First of all, try to find the humanity in the people that you’re interviewing. You can connect with anyone on any level. I mean, not some of the crazy perpetrators we’ve seen recently, but you can connect with people about family. We all know many of us live with aging parents and took care of aging parents or had worries about our own health. So there are some issues that cut across all demographics and just find that core. Everybody is stressed out or anxious about something. So many people you would never expect have families with their big issues, health issues, health concerns.

Look at how quickly young people changed America on the issue of LGBTQ rights, how quickly that changed in the military, everywhere. And it was really people, young and old, recognizing that not only was it a human rights and civil rights issue, but it was talking about their sons, daughters, you know, aunts, uncles, parents. So everyone is affected by these very human conditions and that’s the basis on which we have to communicate.

“Everybody is stressed out or anxious about something…everyone is affected by these very human conditions and that’s the basis on which we have to communicate.” – Andrea Mitchell 

Todd: I’ll Sum it up shortly: Don’t get ‘been there, done that’ disease. That’s like the number one thing that I have to remind myself. Andrea and I remind each other, you know — oh, we’ve seen it seven times one way, it’s true. And then one time, you don’t. That’s why I love politics. It’s why I love doing what we’re doing. For some people 2016 was a wake-up call for various reasons, but it was also a reminder that, hey, voters vote. The voters speak here. People always ask ‘What do you think’s going to happen?’ When a voter asks me that, I always say ‘oh, my vote counts the same as yours. What do you think’s going to happen?’

That’s something though. Always remember to re-ask that question.

NBC News’ coverage tonight starts at 8p/7c on NBC & for more of our exclusive with Chuck and Andrea, check out @hercampus on Instagram.

Katherine (or Katie) is the News Editor and resident witch at Her Campus. She first fell in love with journalism while attending SUNY New Paltz ('14). Since then, she has worked on the staffs at MTV News and Bustle writing about politics, intersectional social issues and more before serving as staff researcher at Lady Parts Justice League. Her work has been published in Women's Health, the Daily Dot, Public Radio International (PRI) and WNYC and she's been a regular panelist on a few podcasts (mostly screaming about repro rights.)  She is a Libra with a Taurus moon and a Scorpio ascendant, which either means nothing or everything. She loves strong diner coffee, reading tarot for strangers at the bar and watching the same three horror movie documentaries. She lives in the Hudson Valley with too many animals.     
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