ROBERT COSTA: Hello. I’m Robert Costa. And this is the Washington Week Extra, where we pick up online where we left off on the broadcast.
Chuck, Washington Week is celebrating its 50th birthday this year, but compared to Meet the Press we’re just entering middle age. (Laughter.) What does it mean for Meet the Press to reach this milestone?
CHUCK TODD: Well, you know, the neatest thing about it is that the history of television news is the history of Meet the Press, right? So there that, which is – frankly, when I realized that when I took over, it became a little daunting, a little extra weight. What I’ve enjoyed doing is sort of trying to be a little reflective on the show. And you realize, when I took the show over and as my EP, John Reiss, said, we saw all these – we got a bunch of advice how to fix the Sunday shows and all this stuff. And it was – as he said, he goes they give you – you got to do X, Y, and Z, and then, by the way, get rid of them, we don’t need them anymore. What’s been interesting is that you realize the brilliance of having – first of all, starting it on a Sunday, making sure it’s a Sunday. It’s already our day of reflection, our day of rest culturally, so now it’s a day – it’s become synonymous with a day of trying to figure out what did the week mean, what did all this mean. And then all of a sudden we got this saturation moment, where people are so overwhelmed with all the news in any given hour – let alone day, let alone week – that there is so much more space for, what, Washington Week, for the Sunday shows. And what’s been interesting that I’ve seen is all of us who do these, let’s take a step back and figure out what the heck just happened and what does it mean and why does it matter. There has been more appetite for it than ever before, so it’s been heartening in many ways to see that viewers now get, oh my God, they’re following it more, but they’re so overwhelmed they want to help – they want help sorting it out.
MR. COSTA: That’s a great point. And when you look back now at your time as not only host and moderator of Meet the Press, but a guest, I mean, Sunday morning politics, as you said it earlier this week at a party for Meet the Press, it really is that time, as you said, for reflection. And there’s power there of taking a pause.
MR. TODD: There is, and I think it does sort of – I mean, I feel like now our jobs – your job too – is to help the viewers know what to not worry about; you know, to try to figure out what not to cover. And I think now the hardest decision all of us make as reporters now in this era of just saturation is figuring out how to – how to sift through it and say, you know what, that doesn’t matter, don’t focus on it, don’t spend time on it, don’t do segments on it. And it’s the hardest part of the job these days because there’s so much, but at the same time it’s very helpful to the viewer.
MR. COSTA: I want to bring in Molly and Peter on this, because as I was thinking through Meet the Press and 70 years – I grew up watching Meet the Press, watched Chuck every Sunday – it tells us a lot, 70 years, about how much technology and social media have changed the way we cover politics. And as you look back even throughout your careers, Peter and Molly, about how much – at the beginning, when I started, Twitter was really nothing, and now you have to be on social media all the time.
MR. TODD: We didn’t have the internet, Peter. I mean, God love you, Bob.
PETER BAKER: When you started. (Laughter.) I was –
MOLLY BALL: Me either. (Laughs.)
MR. COSTA: I wasn’t trying to bring up age or anything.
MR. TODD: I know. (Laughter.)
MR. COSTA: My point is that we’re all dealing with this 24/7 media environment.
MR. BAKER: You know what the technological improvement in my college newspaper when I got there was? We moved from manual typewriters to electric typewriters. That was the big thing. (Laughter.) So yeah, we’ve seen a lot of change. And it’s great, actually, because in fact the reader, the viewers, they have so many more opportunities these days to get information, we have more opportunities to tell stories to them. And I think that what’s great is that institutions like Washington Week and Meet the Press, our publications I think, have stuck to the values that matter in journalism without worrying about the platform; and finding new ways to tell stories is a way of helping, not changing, journalism.
MS. BALL: Yeah. And I think, to Chuck’s point, you know, these institutions like Meet the Press or TIME Magazine or The New York Times that are somewhat old-fashioned – we’re still in traditional media – people come back to them at the end of the day because there is this need for distillation that you can’t – you’ll go crazy if you try to get news from Twitter all day, and people do feel like they’re going crazy right now, and they do need –
MR. BAKER: And some of them are. (Laughter.)
MS. BALL: And some of them actually were crazy to begin with, but now we have to listen to them, I guess. (Laughter.)
MR. TODD: But I’m – yeah, I’m a believer people age into this stuff.
MS. BALL: Well, and I – but I also think that as much as, you know – coming from local newspapers, which have in large part been destroyed by the internet –
MR. COSTA: It’s tragic.
MS. BALL: – and the economics of it are still devastating and daunting, at the same time the internet is wonderful for journalism because the information can go everywhere. My first job at the Toledo Blade, we didn’t have the Web on our – we did have computers, but we didn’t have the Web, and the only people who could read something I wrote were those 100,000 people in Toledo who got the newspaper on their doorstep. Now if you write something, if you break a story for the Podunk Tribune or The New York Times, it can go everywhere. And that’s – it’s an amazing platform to have, and it’s wonderful how rich we are in information, even if it does create issues sometimes.
MR. COSTA: But look, I’m not a Luddite, OK? But don’t you think sometimes our reporting suffers because we just don’t have the time that the older generation did to go sit with people and really flesh out someone over the course of an hour, or maybe –
MR. BAKER: That’s a management question, though. That’s a management question. What you need to do is you’re got to have people who have to file instantly, right – your five-minute, quick, get a story up – but you have to make time as a manager. Editors and producers have to make time for others to spend time on those stories. Why did you guys get the four women to talk to you about Roy Moore? It’s not because you guys did it in 10 minutes.
MR. TODD: You know, I’ve thought about this and, you know, it’s interesting. I actually also – I was a contributor to this in a previous life, being on the supposed cutting edge of what technology was in the ’90s.
MR. BAKER: Hotline was the internet for those of us who were looking for news outside of our town, yeah.
MR. TODD: That’s right, I always say we were the internet before the internet before the internet when it started. Sort of aggregating is a now a word everybody knows; back then we called it covering the coverage.
MS. BALL: And it was print clippings aggregated into a fax. (Laughs.)
MR. TODD: But we also – but we also embraced that – we were – we were big data people, in many ways. We were the first ones to start realizing, hey, there is a process to campaign politics. It isn’t just – it isn’t all art. There is – there is some data behind it. And I’m now concerned – it’s bigger than what you just pointed out, this taking time. I’m concerned that too much political – too many of us basically got fired up about Richard Ben Cramer, and what it takes, and decided we’re going to cover politics two ways: What makes people tick, and what’s the data tell us?
There’s been something missing in political reporting over the last 25 years, the voters, right? And that bit us in the you-know-what in 2016. And it was sort of like the – and for me, it’s been – I’ve been doing some personal reflection on this, because I know I’m a contributor to it. I was a data guy. In many ways, that revolution, I rode the internet revolution. It was very good for my career.
MR. COSTA: So what’s next? What’s next?
MR. TODD: Look, I think the consumers are speaking. I mean, the fact is, look at the subscriptions to The New York Times, your previous employer, The Atlantic. That’s a magazine everybody said was done and was out of –
MR. COSTA: And TIME’s thrived.
MR. TODD: And TIME was supposedly done. And you see this – people gravitating back, looking for trusted institutions, looking for people, again, to help sort out this stuff a little bit. I do think that that is a value-add, particularly in the shows that we do, but in all of these publications, particularly yours, is figuring out how to sort this mess out.
MR. COSTA: There’s a lot of rise of partisan media. I mean, the country is polarized.
MR. BAKER: But, you know what, there’s good and bad to that, right? And it’s not new. We had partisan media a century ago when we had five newspapers in a town. You’d have a liberal, a conservative, a socialist, or, you know, whatever. And we consolidated to one newspaper that had to appeal to a mass market and therefore take a more main – you know, neutral or whatever term. Now, we’ve kind of regressed to that.
And I think in general a robust marketplace of ideas is a healthy thing. It’s a wonderful thing. People can get information in so many different ways. What worries me is that we only go to our corners and we don’t ever look anywhere else. If I’m a liberal, I go to this side. If I’m a conservative I go to that side. And we never interact. And we don’t start with the same fact set. If you live in different ideological media worlds, you don’t – you don’t even have the same basic understanding of the facts as people who live on the other side. And that’s where we don’t mix.
MS. BALL: Well, people – if there’s anything that I’ve learned, unfortunately, about human nature, is that people don’t like to challenge their own world view. And it’s basically our jobs, right, to question our assumptions and to try to understand the world without bias. But most human beings find that uncomfortable. And the easier and more, you know, endorphin-producing thing to do is to be reassured that you were right all the time.
And now there’s the entire ecosystem of media that will just tell you: Don’t worry. You don’t have to rethink anything you thought you knew. You were right all along. You know, Roy Moore’s not a child molester and the things that you wanted to believe are still true. And that’s very comforting to people. And I don’t know – it may be that the idea of an objective and unbiased media, as difficult as it’s always been, was an anomaly and can’t really exist in nature.
MR. BAKER: Yeah.
MR. TODD: Well, look, obviously we’re born with original bias. We’re human beings. If you’re – you know, you just – we’re all born with a bias, depending on where we were born, who we’re born, what our ethnicity is. You can go through, you’re born with an original bias. My concern about the rise of partisan media, or re-rise, is not the publications where there is a – where there’s at least an ethics, a journalism ethics to it. It’s the ones – it’s the, quote, “media organizations” that are campaign tools.
And, look, this was popular – you know, this is the line that I think is, to me, so uncomfortable. And I really wish viewers and readers of these would be more concerned about – it’s not good if the guy who runs Breitbart is also trying to recruit candidates for office. It’s not good if – you know, if a former Nixon operative runs a network. You know, those are –
MS. BALL: Well, and it goes beyond that.
MR. TODD: – that’s where this sort of – and then you have paid political professionals who exploit this distrust. And those are the one I hold in the lowest esteem.
MS. BALL: And I think, also though, what we’ve seen is that it goes beyond partisan hackery to active disinformation, potentially, you know, foreign propaganda. And that’s a lot of the things that we’ve been worrying about and studying with regard to Twitter and Facebook and what happened in the last election.
MR. COSTA: What’s heartening though is Times thriving, The New York Times is fantastic. Meet the Press is at 70, looking ahead to another 70. So we live in a time of chaos, but we live in a time of great journalism. And we’ll leave it there.
That’s it for this edition of the Washington Week Extra. While you’re online, take the news quiz. It’s fun.
I’m Robert Costa. See you next time.