Chuck Todd: Advice from a Television Journalist

Meet the Press host and NBC News’ Political Director, Chuck Todd, who came to the American University campus on Oct. 10 for an event co-hosted by the Kennedy Political Union and the School of Communication. SOC students and political junkies alike lined up outside of the Mckinley building to secure a coveted seat to see what Todd had to say. With words of journalistic wisdom and hot takes to spare, Todd captivated all who were in the audience. 

The conversation kicked off with Todd discussing a recent conversation he had with Senator Ron Johnson that landed both of them in the news. Todd told the audience that he does not think he should ever be news.

“Folks that cover what I say are avoiding the real story,” Todd said, adding later that, “people want to make the media the story to avoid the situation that we are in.” The situation meaning political turmoil.

As a journalist Todd takes it as his responsibility to translate the news to his audience, however, he knows that there is a strong distrust of the media. Todd shared that he wakes up unhappy everyday because he knows 40% of the country thinks he is lying to them.

“I’ve stopped caring what people think of me… you can’t do good journalism if you care what people think.”

Every question he asks during interviews is for the people watching at home, said Todd. The people he interviews are not friends, however he does chose guests based on who he thinks will take the premise of the conversation seriously.

“I don’t socialize in this town,” Todd joked. “I just want to go home and watch the Nats.”

While Todd discourages the use of social media as a news source, he said his desert island newspaper would be the Wall Street Journal, which he believes is the most accurate paper that shares the other side's perspective as well. For more on Todd’s comments about how to navigate the news, check out this article.

When the topic of the upcoming presidential election arose, students in the audience could not help but gasp at some of Todd’s hot-take predictions for what’s to come.

“I don’t know what to make of Bernie…the question is if he can build off his base, and if he is still a financial juggernaut,” said Todd. The gasps came however when he added, "The person who could be the wild card here if Bernie starts to recede is Andrew Yang.”

Todd also believes that a candidate who is not Elizabeth Warren, Joe Biden or Bernie Sanders will finish in the top three in Iowa. As of now, he thinks Pete Buttigieg has a shot at securing the spot in Iowa because he is a weekly church goer and can relate to the population that way. If not Buttigieg, Todd thinks Booker might be able to secure the top three spot there as well. 

When moderator Jane Hall, a professor in SOC, pointed out that he left Kamala Harris out of the conversation Todd sighed and agreed he did. Harris, he said, is lumped together in the category of candidates who thought there was space to run on a platform that landed between Biden and Bernie, however, Warren took the middle ground, leaving the other candidates trailing behind. 

Todd didn't only covered the topic of the current election; when asked how his experience reporting on President Donald Trump and the 2016 election were, he put it simply: “Covering the Trump administration is intellectually easy, but mentally exhausting.”

As for coverage of the 2016 election, Todd said that the biggest error the media made was that they knew Donald Trump too well. Despite this mistake, Todd added that it is a lazy analysis to blame the media for the election results. 

“Nobody took his campaign less seriously than the Clinton campaign,” said Todd, defending how the media covered the election.

The event ended with Todd giving a few pieces of advice to aspiring journalists. The first nugget of wisdom he gave students was to avoid being a technology snob and to remain platform neutral. He then added that everyone, whether they work with audio, video, or any other aspect of journalism, must learn how to write. To be a journalist today one must be able to do it all; there is no broadcast and no print, just journalism.

The last piece of advice Todd gave was that it is better to start working as a journalist in a big city than anywhere else. There is a lack of geographical diversity in the industry so it is best to go towards the coasts and big cities.

 

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