On the CBS “Late Show” with Stephen Colbert the other night, Republican presidential front-runner Donald Trump suggested that “Meet the Press” host Chuck Todd had somehow evolved on the question of Donald Trump. In various outbursts, Trump had referred to Todd as a “moron.” No more: “The moron has become a very nice guy. I’ve started to like him,” said Trump.
So has Todd somehow changed his tune on Trump? “I don’t know what he’s reacting to,” responded Todd, conveying a common experience with the Republican front-runner. “I’ve talked about it internally, as we need to take his candidacy seriously because, guess what — millions of Americans are gravitating toward him and we shouldn’t be snobs about this.” Those who report the news from places like New York and Washington, says the NBC newsman, can easily fall into the condescension trap. “You have to be careful not to be a snob,” he said.
Newsy neutrality and a distaste for cosmopolitan presumptions are about to get more airtime at Todd’s employer. As part of a revamp of cable channel MSNBC, Todd on Sept. 28 will start helming the weekday 5 p.m. “MTP Daily,” a brand extension of Todd’s flagship Sunday public affairs show, “Meet the Press.” Todd’s accession places him right in the middle of an organizational retreat from lefty talk and an embrace of hard news during MSNBC’s daytime hours. Liberal blabber Ed Schultz formerly held down the slot that Todd will be taking, and other opinionators — including Toure Neblett and Krystal Ball — are gone from the cable network’s lineup. Al Sharpton has taken his mix of activism and opinion from MSNBC’s 6 p.m. slot to a weekend show.
Coming to the rescue — at least in the hopes of NBC News Chairman Andy Lack, who has orchestrated all of this — will be the platoon of previously underutilized NBC News correspondents. Their collective target is another 24/7 network to which people tend to turn when news is breaking. “I guess that’s the whole point of bringing NBC and MSNBC back together. The argument we make is we have similar resources as CNN when you bring us together,” says Todd. “We have bureau chiefs around the world. We have somebody full-time in Tehran.” Not that Todd’s saying that the combined operation can match CNN “body for body” — CNN claims to have almost 4,000 news professionals. But the ideal pushed by Lack is “‘Good grief, guys, we have all these resources,'” says Todd, who says that campaign “embeds” will see some air time on “MTP Daily.”
Those resources will be getting a workout on “MTP Daily,” says the host. At least the first half of the program, he says, will consist of reports from NBC political reporters out in the field — from Des Moines or Nashua or wherever. “MTP Daily” will be the “home for our campaign journalism,” he says. Another thing: The show will perhaps go light on the panel discussions that poison political reporting across pretty much all broadcasters. “I’m not going to say we’re not going to have any panels,” says Todd, who envisions more two-person segments than the multiple-person segments that make a chore of television watching.
Todd once anchored the MSNBC morning program “The Daily Rundown” but bagged it as he came aboard “Meet the Press.” The lighter workload didn’t appeal to Todd; among the bummers was a feeling of disconnectedness from happenings on Capitol Hill, he attests.
The direct competition for Todd is disparate. At 5 p.m., Fox News broadcasts its raucous and entertaining “The Five,” a roundtable of people who alternate between bashing President Obama and bashing his policies, with a sliver of liberal objection thrown in for good measure. CNN chimes in with Wolf Blitzer’s “Situation Room.” Those aren’t the shows to which Todd looks when it comes to modeling his late-in-the-day news presentation. “If anything … I look at what Jake’s doing at 4 and what Bret’s doing at 6,” says Todd, referring to Jake Tapper’s CNN show “The Lead” and Bret Baier’s Fox News “Special Report.” “I look at those two shows as more of trying to do a similar thing that I’m hoping to accomplish as well — a mix of news, flexing the muscles of the news division … getting the important interview of the day.”
Even if that interview comes with Trump, on some crackly phone connection? In recent weeks, the Huffington Post’s Michael Calderone along with this blog have marveled at Trump’s telephonic colonization of the news airwaves. Todd notes that he’s done a face-to-face interview with Trump. That said, “I do appreciate the fact, though, that he makes himself available. If the president wants to phone it in, I’ll take the call,” he says.