"I felt uncomfortable that somebody had done this," he said on the set of his weekday MSNBC show, "MTP Daily," after taping an interview with Kim Darroch, the British ambassador to the United States. "Now, I'm not going to pretend it wasn't cool. There are worse people to be compared to than Walker Texas Ranger."
That's a fact. And it turns out there are some pretty interesting — and real — facts about Chuck Todd, too.
For instance: Todd, 44, has risen to one of the most prestigious posts in American journalism — host of "Meet the Press" — without a college degree. (He's six credits short.) He wakes each morning between 4 and 5 a.m. and somehow, despite a grueling campaign coverage schedule, finds the energy to go for a run most days.
What's on his workout playlist? "Classic rock," he told me. "Seventies. A little bit of '80s embarrassment stuff — little hair band. Some pop from the last three years because of my kids. That song 'Geronimo' is a good running song for me. I'll admit that."
And when Todd has trouble falling asleep, he counts senators instead of sheep. Seriously. The man is an incurable politics addict. I can write that because I told him that to his face.
Here's more of our conversation. As usual, the following transcript has been edited for clarity and length.
THE FIX: What will the convention stretch look like for Chuck Todd?
TODD: Oh, I — just constant. Election Day is the Super Bowl, but the conventions — probably the best sports comparison is NBA All-Star weekend. ... It becomes sort of a halfway point of the political season, in the same way that the All-Star game is the halfway point of the basketball season. And then as soon the All-Star game is done, all of a sudden everyone is truly focused on who is going to win this thing. After the conventions are done, it's like, "All right, now, what the hell does this race look like?"
THE FIX: You've got people in this building who have covered presidential elections, going back decades. Do you ever have conversations about "the good old days," when there were three networks and everyone supposedly paid total attention to politics and policy? Do you feel an extra challenge today in holding people's attention and getting them to grasp all the nuances of a very complex race?
TODD: I look at it as a liberation, in some respects. I think in the "good old days," the networks' responsibility was to tell you the who and what. You didn't have as much time to do why. Why does this matter? ... The advantage is the news consumer of today is much more well-informed than the news consumer of 30 years ago, and that gives you a license to be more nuanced in your coverage, to do more sidebar stories that give context to the larger issue that's being debated.
THE FIX: I guess the counter to that would be: Are you intimidating new viewers? Is there too much of a clubby, insider-y feel?
TODD: I've been through this argument when I ran the Hotline. Most people don't want to admit they don't know. Most people want to believe they are smart enough to be a member of that club. I've always believed you don't shut them out. Make it accessible. Just make the insider stuff accessible.
THE FIX: Let me ask you about a different club — the Sunday talk show hosts. Do you know each other well? Do you and [CBS's John] Dickerson and [ABC's George] Stephanopoulos go golfing?
TODD: No, no, no. The person I'm closest to is Jake [Tapper at CNN]. I always say we professionally grew up together. My first Iowa State Fair was his first Iowa State Fair. We hung out together in '99. He went to ABC; I went to NBC. He was a White House correspondent; a couple years later, I was a White House correspondent. I consider Jake a pretty good friend. I think he would say the same about me. And frankly, if I'm ever looking for advice on how to deal with something in the business, he's that type of sounding board.
THE FIX: Outside of the Sunday shows, have you ever bumped into Anderson Cooper to have that debate about whether it's cooler to have two first names or two last names?
TODD: Well, you realize NBC is the network of two first names: Chris Matthews, Brian Williams, Chuck Todd, Andrea Mitchell — people forget that one — and, for a long time, David Gregory. Although, I don't know how much Brian and Chris get to be in the club — it's that plural thing.
THE FIX: Tell me the college story. You went to George Washington, and you didn't finish.
TODD: I was working full-time, since my sophomore year, at the Hotline. School was basically just an obligation. And, anyway, I ended up six credits short at the end of four years. I was on some scholarship money, and I ran out of money. I couldn't afford it. So, I'm six short. I want to do it. I want to get it done before my kids go to college.
THE FIX: But why bother now? It's not like someone won't hire Chuck Todd because he doesn't have a degree.
TODD: Because I've always been pissed at myself for not finishing. At the time it was perfectly logical. In hindsight, it's one of those great lessons in life. You think, "I'll get to it. I'll get to it." Well, eventually life gets in the way. Life happens. There's marriage. There's financial obligations. There's kids. Why bother? It's a personal thing. It's annoying to me that I have to say I didn't finish.
THE FIX: So how did you end up falling in love with politics in the first place?
TODD: My dad was a political junkie. My most memorable year of realizing how interested I was, was in eighth grade. I got into "Profiles in Courage." And then that summer, we had a cousin of mine essentially live with us. He was helping run a statewide campaign. Back in the '80s in Florida, they used to elect everything statewide — education commissioner, everything. He was a big Democrat, and my father was a big conservative. And he used to come over, and they would get hammered and debate politics all night. And I would sit there, refilling their drinks and listening to this and just having a blast.
THE FIX: Did you practice being the moderator?
TODD: I don't remember doing that, no. I was essentially the bartender in eighth grade. Other parents can judge all they want. My dad is deceased, so you don't get to trash him. Some people are moderators, others are bartenders — and one could argue it's the same skill set. I remember one night they were like, "Let's see if we can name all 100 senators from memory." And they did. And now, that is a way I put myself to sleep. I do. I don't count sheep. I geographically go through the Senate. I start in Alaska. I always start left to right.
THE FIX: You're incurable.
TODD: It is weird.