In defense of Chuck Todd and his intelligence but not faux irresponsible journalists

Numerous commenters on Greenwald’s Salon radio interview post with MSNBC/NBC’s Chuck Todd found all kinds of imaginative and unimaginative ways of questioning his intelligence. Just because someone disagrees with you and seems to be far off base from your thinking has nothing to do with degrees of intelligence. Deriding your opposition also does little to provide an opportunity to change thinking. Chuck Todd is not stupid.

Chuck Todd became an expert on analyzing elections and discovered that he was good at explaining them in a blog and on the air. His meteoric rise to White House correspondent and Political chief for a major broadcast and cable network only happened because he is highly intelligent and a good communicator. His intelligence is not the issue. The question is why he has not used it to realize he doesn’t understand his job or its crucial importance.

He learned about journalism mostly through OJT (On the Job Training), not in journalism courses at a university. His bosses and mentors don’t understand their job either, so it is only natural that he doesn’t understand his. Whether or not he attended “J” school is not that important because many graduates are just as much in the dark as he is.

I also learned journalism OJT as a 28-year Air Force public affairs officer working with major national and international media. As I worked with these media, I sought out their opinion about their job and how they did it. Here is what I learned mostly during the ’60s and ’70s.

  1. There is no such thing as an objective reporter or an objective news article/report.

  2. Any reporter who thinks he is objective or neutral is misguided and dangerous.

  3. Striving to be objective harms the investigation for truth and makes the reporter subject to being played by sources.

  4. Finding and reporting the truth is the only job of a journalist because just providing information or regurgitating what both sides say is not journalism.

  5. Being unwilling to accept full responsibility for the consequences from an investigation or published/aired story or one that wasn’t published/aired under the guise of being an objective reporter who must simply cover both sides of a story is rationalization at its worst.

  6. The fourth/fifth estate role of journalism is crucial to maintaining freedom and fairness and preventing empires or corporations from ruling the world.

It is amazing how the myth that a reporter can be objective persists to this day and has caused Todd to make such an embarrassing explanation of his reasoning during the Greenwald interview. The main motivation for faux journalists to believe this myth is that it relieves the burden of taking responsibility for the reporting and the consequences the report creates. That directly contradicts the reason for an investigation into the truth so that the readers/viewers will be better informed to make their judgments. A true reporter strives to take responsibility so there will be meaningful consequences. A faux journalist believes what the reader/viewer concludes is their responsibility not mine. All I simply did was provide “objective” information. The sources are fully at fault, not me.

This strong desire to escape responsibility leads to the incredible rationalization that a reporter is a machine who can ignore all of life’s experience and learning. Every thought and decision is made through ones’ culture and life lived and it enters into all aspects of an investigation into the truth. Journalists are not scientists with the ability to conduct and verify their and others’ experiments to establish scientific facts. Journalists work with subjective sources and subjective thinking. Only through recognizing this can a journalist have any chance to find the elusive truth that in itself is subjective and open to much interpretation.

A journalist does work with and report facts. There are some aspects of science when Todd is analyzing voter polls and election results. However, he is providing an opinion on what he sees in the facts. When Todd is talking to his political Beltway sources, I’m sure he recognizes that each source has a different objective and is far from objective. Yet when it comes to American government torture, he becomes a stenographer and totally ignores the consequences of those who we tortured and murdered by saying he must view things at 30,000 feet because at ground level he can’t see the forest for the trees and he must recognize political realities. He does not want to believe that he and his colleagues are partially responsible that we are still torturing, renditioning and probably killing detainees because we have allowed a president to break national and international law and put our rule of law in jeopardy. He and his faux journalist colleagues don’t want to believe that they could have and did not prevent or at least try extremely hard to prevent the Iraq invasion and the millions who have suffered or died.

True journalists take full responsibility for what sources they talk to, whether they will provide the cover of anonymity, how much they will strive to verify what they are being told and what should and should not be reported. They should have a deep pain in their gut when their reporting fails to bring the change they desire and not blame anyone but themselves.

There is no question that owners/publishers desire to make money as the overriding goal has made true journalism much harder. So too has the advent of 24/7 reporting and the desire to be first, right or wrong. What escapes me as a human being is how when the fourth/fifth estate role of journalism is more important than ever to the well being of our nation and the world, how faux journalists and selfish politicians can sleep well at night.

Radio interview link:


  1. dirigo says:

    Unfortunately, reality is becoming more unreal than ever, by the day and by the click.

    • rmp says:

      Rachel Maddow has Dan Rather and Tom Brokaw on to talk about Walter. During Walter’s time, we had far better anchors, news reporting and integrity.

      • dirigo says:

        No quarrel here. Something important has been lost.

        A note about watching David Shuster’s coverage in the KO slot, tonight on MSNBC: He spoke by phone with Daniel Schorr, formerly part of the “Murrow’s Boys” circle, now with NPR. Shuster asked about Cronkite’s retirement as anchor in 1981; and Schorr veered around the question about internal CBS business. But he did say Cronkite didn’t want to be pastured out to make room for Rather. Later, Shuster talked to Hugh Downs; and Downs said Cronkite “retired too early.”

        CBS, for all its accomplishments, is still a corporation, and it forced many of its stars off the stage when it suited the company, not the talent.

    • rmp says:

      That’s sad. Fudging the truth no matter how well intentioned is dangerous and has no place in journalism.

      • dirigo says:

        Where does Photo Shop fit in?

        Someone just replaced my head with that of Silvio Berlusconi; and I’m not Italian; nor am I that smitten by bejeweled bimbos.

  2. timothy3 says:

    Just because someone disagrees with you and seems to be far off base from your thinking has nothing to do with degrees of intelligence. Deriding your opposition also does little to provide an opportunity to change thinking. Chuck Todd is not stupid.

    I’m going to take issue with this, Hag, and not just because I’m guilty of piling on (with respect to GG’s interview).

    My commentary was based solely on the transcript, and the initial “Morning Joe” statements, made by Todd. They were incoherent. They demonstrated a lack of awareness that is shocking in any human, particularly one who comments on politics for a living.

    There’s no getting around that, in my view.

    I have nothing against the man personally, of course, but

    Deriding your opposition also does little to provide an opportunity to change thinking. Chuck Todd is not stupid.

    I think he is stupid–in a most critical way: where justice and decency matter and politics is more than a game; it’s about policies that affect real people– and I really don’t care how many others sing his praises for parsing electoral data during the primaries and the general election (and I made no comment on his education or general background, at least not that I recall).
    The man is a disgrace and, having read that transcript, hold out zero–zilch–hope that the “thinking” of ones such as this can be changed.
    CH, I feel strongly about this, as you can tell.

    • rmp says:

      Thanks for your comment, but I, RMP, wrote this, not the Hag.

      Maybe it depends on your definition of stupid. I think what you are describing is ignorance, not degrees of intelligence which is my definition of stupidity.

      I’m not singing his praises. I am pointing out that he learned the wrong way to do his job from his bosses and peers and I don’t think he is beyond learning the real job of a journalist although the odds are very long.

  3. timothy3 says:

    Oh, hey, sorry RMP. I guess I didn’t look closely enough–and here, if I can summon the gall, let me say “Well, I’m not a journalist so what do you expect!”–I didn’t mean to suggest you were singing the praises of Chuck Todd, rather that other commenters at GG’s blog were doing so (and they were, as I recall, what with the electoral data stuff).

    Thanks for the correction.

  4. cocktailhag says:

    Paul’s the one not in curlers, T3, we really look nothing alike except on the blog sometimes. I think Todd’s problem, possibly linked to the water supply, is Village-ism. He’s “savvy,” which seems to the outsider like the opposite of smart. I think that was Paul’s point; what he’s doing is, obviously, wrong, but it follows the protocols of what he’s learned. His native intelligence came through when he basically acknowledged that he operated in a system where moral truths are basically “quaint,” and he really declined to defend himself with regard to the larger picture.
    And I would have to add that compared to any other M$M figure ever to deign to bother with an unSerious Lefty “blogger” like GG, he came off with a lot more class, and a lot more, if not humility, at least a presumption of the idea that he could, just maybe, be wrong.
    We can’t judge people like Todd as we would normal people; he’s a bona-fide Villager now. As such, he’s practically a gem.

    • rmp says:

      I think “it takes a village to raise a child” applies here. When one of the UT commenters emailed Todd and provided sound advice, Todd responded quickly and thanked him/her for the advice. That showed class to me and that Todd might consider someday that he got schooled by the wrong villagers.

      I was also impressed that Todd obviously reads UT often enough to recognize Glenn’s brilliance and importance. That is very encouraging to me because when the M$M realizes that rather than putting the bloggers down, they can learn a lot and will be able to do their job better, they will slowly realize how to do their job better.

      I watched Joe Klein evolve into a more accurate observer after Glenn and Swampland commenters went after his sloppy reporting.

  5. sysprog says:

    (just for fun) Uncle Walter – - had the right stuff:

    * * * * *

    (and more seriously) Uncle Walter – - in 1996:

    “I regret that in our attempt to establish some standards we didn’t make them stick. We couldn’t find a way to pass them on to another generation.”


  6. dirigo says:

    Cronkite, reporting on the 1968 vote, by way of Digby …