Sep
18
2013

Inform the Public? Not My Job, Says Chuck Todd

Chuck Todd (cc photo: Tarek Rizk/Aspen Institute)

Chuck Todd (cc photo: Tarek Rizk/Aspen Institute)

NBC White House correspondent Chuck Todd's declaration that it's not his job to inform viewers when politicians spread misinformation was noted by several progressive blogs today, including Talking Points Memo.

Appearing on MSNBC's Morning Joe today (9/18/13), Todd responded to Ed Rendell's claim that Obamacare opponents are full of misinformation about the program by explaining that this was because Republicans  "have successfully messaged against it." But wasn't journalism's job to expose misinformation? No, Todd insisted; if the public was misinformed about the Affordable Care Act, it was the president's fault for not pushing back:

What I always love is people say, "Well, it's you folks' fault in the media." No, it's the president of the United States' fault for not selling it.

It's sad that NBC's White House correspondent thinks his job is merely to convey politicians  pronouncements, with no care about whether they are true or false. In fact,  scrutinizing claims, particularly those from powerful officials, is an essential part of journalism. It's embarrassing to have to cite elementary principles to one the nation's most influential reporters, but Todd should consider reviewing the Society of Professional Journalists' Code of Ethics, where, under the heading "Seek Truth and Report It," the very first tenet implores journalists to "test the accuracy of information from all sources."

Todd isn't alone among influential journalists claiming that factchecking sources is outside their job purview. In 2004, NPR's Ron Elving declared that journalism was incapable of calling out the lies about John Kerry's military record spread by the Swift Boat Veteran's for Truth, claiming: "There is no way that journalism can satisfy those who think that Kerry is a liar or that Swift Boat Veterans for Truth are liars." Journalists' throwing up their hands when it came to the distortion of Kerry's military record may have determined the outcome of the 2004 election.

The stenography model of journalism was so strong in 2002 that it prompted New York Times columnist Paul Krugman (9/6/02) to quip sarcastically about journalists failure to challenge Bush White House lies:

The next time the administration insists that chocolate is vanilla, much of the media–fearing accusations of liberal bias, trying to create the appearance of "balance"–won't report that the stuff is actually brown; at best they'll report that some Democrats claim that it's brown.

Todd not only seems to have a hard time understanding the basic principles of his job, he may also be guilty of false advertising. In an MSNBC promo that ran in the not-too-distant past (e.g., 9/21/11), Todd gave a pretty good account of what his job should actually be about:

My job is to bring up issues that Americans care about.

It's my responsibility to ask the tough questions. No matter who's leading the country, they need to be held accountable.

I have unique access to the president, his advisers, the candidates and members of Congress.

I'd better use that access for a greater good. Use it for people who can't get through the White House gates. For people who can't be heard.

The American people deserve answers.

It's hard to square that Chuck Todd with the Chuck Todd who thinks calling out lies about public policy isn't his job, or, for that matter, the White House correspondent who appears on the news day after day.

P.S. Todd responded on Twitter (9/18/13) to the criticism he was getting: "I was NOT saying it isn't job of journos to call out lies, I said it was not job of media to sell WH's healthcare message, it is WH's job." But the Affordable Care Act is not a "message" to be "sold"; it's the law of the land, and NBC's viewers need to understand it. That's Todd's job, and he's clearly not interested in doing it.

About Steve Rendall

Senior Media Analyst and Co-producer of CounterSpin Steve Rendall is FAIR's senior analyst. He is co-host of CounterSpin, FAIR's national radio show. His work has received awards from Project Censored, and has won the praise of noted journalists such as Les Payne, Molly Ivins and Garry Wills. He is co-author of The Way Things Aren't: Rush Limbaugh's Reign of Error (The New Press, 1995, New York City). Rendall has appeared on dozens of national television and radio shows, including appearances on CNN, C-SPAN, CNBC, MTV and Fox Morning News. He was the subject of a profile in the New York Times (5/19/96), and has been quoted on issues of media and politics in publications such as the Chicago Tribune, Washington Post and New York Times. Rendall contributed stories to the International Herald Tribune from France, Spain and North Africa; worked as a freelance writer in San Francisco; and worked as an archivist collecting historical material on the Spanish Civil War and the volunteers who fought in it. Rendall studied philosophy and chemistry at San Francisco State University, the College of Notre Dame and UC Berkeley.