NBC News political director Chuck Todd sat down with The Week’s editor-at-large Marc Ambinder on Monday for a conversation at Wallis Annenberg Hall. At the panel, the pair focused on politics, the impact President Donald Trump has had on the nation and the future of journalism.
The conversation began with Todd’s thoughts on contemporary politics. He cited globalization as a defining characteristic of the current “historical era” and expressed concern over the influence of social media on the political climate.
“The thing we don’t appreciate enough is how much social media has changed human behavior,” Todd said. “We have to create some cultural guardrails on social media. I think it’s self-governance and I don’t think it’s something you can expect to come from government.”
Todd also answered questions about the upcoming midterm elections in November. He said he doubts Republicans will be able to rely on last December’s tax cuts.
“I’ve never felt so uncertain about fall this late in a midterm cycle,” Todd said. “We don’t know how things will play out. About half of the Democratic candidates think it’s ‘run against Trump,’ while the other half think they have to ignore him and stick to the issues.”
During the event, Todd also discussed the effects Twitter has had on media consumption. He said that if readers only follow Twitter headlines, they will only get the “stereotypes of each party, the stereotypes of every position and the stereotypes of every debate” while losing the critical nuance stories have to offer.
“The thing that has changed the most is speed and interest,” Todd said. “Here is the challenge for journalism over all. We live in a time where all we want is something that saves us time. Unfortunately, that has not worked well for following political news.”
At the event, Todd described his upbringing in a bipartisan household where his father ensured he had a “wide aperture for politics.” Todd went on to emphasize his belief in nonpartisan news coverage and underscore his respect for the institution of the presidency.
“There is no such thing as a purist neutrality, but I still demand that,” Todd said. “If I hear my kids making fun of the president because it’s become an easy thing to do in elementary schools and middle schools, I tell them I don’t want to hear that — you don’t denigrate that.”
Todd and Ambinder also addressed the series of recent tweets from Trump referring to Todd as “sleepy eyes Chuck Todd.”
“I’ve asked Trump where he came up with the nickname and he said, ‘I don’t remember but once I have a nickname, I stick to it,’” Todd said.
Many have questioned whether or not Trump’s insult is anti-Semitic.
“I have a theory,” Todd said in reference to Trump’s time hosting The Apprentice. “It’s pretty simple: He watches a lot of NBC because it’s his home network. I think I said something that made him upset so he hit pause on his DVR. You ever hit pause and you catch someone’s eyes and you’re like, ‘Wow, that’s funny?’ I always say to myself, think like him — think like Trump. Do we really think he researched some 1933 secret anti-Semitic society, or, did he just hit the pause button on his DVR?”
Ambinder, an adjunct professor at Annenberg, said that by engaging with guests like Todd at events like these, students can develop deeper insights into the effects of social media essential for budding journalists.
“Chuck would literally read hundreds of political articles a day to figure out what was most important for his audience,” Ambinder said. “There’s a deep well of knowledge behind what he does and preparation is essential. Also, social media’s effects can be really toxic or really helpful. As Chuck said, we collectively have to think of some guardrails for it.”