June 5, 2023

Last November, I was in Washington, D.C., to interview Chuck Todd on the set of NBC’s “Meet the Press.” Just a couple of months earlier, Lachlan Cartwright of The Daily Beast wrote that NBC News was preparing Kristen Welker to eventually become the next moderator of “Meet the Press,” replacing Todd, who had been in the chair since 2014.

So I asked Todd about how much longer he wanted, or expected, to be moderator of “MTP.” He didn’t put a date on it. He said he wasn’t planning on leaving anytime soon, but did say he wasn’t going to be there as long as the late Tim Russert, who hosted the show for 17 years.

“There should be a sell-by date on all journalists in Washington,” Todd told me at the time. “I’m a believer that you shouldn’t have one person in a beat forever. But I’m not done growing this show. I’m certainly not going anywhere anytime soon. But I know how long Tim did it and I wouldn’t do it that long. So there ya go. There’s a number.”

Turns out, Todd called it. He’s not going to do it as long as Russert did. Todd and NBC News announced Sunday that Todd is stepping down as moderator of TV’s longest-running show. Welker, indeed, will be the next host. The change will happen in September.

With what figures to be another tumultuous and extremely newsworthy presidential campaign over the next year-and-a-half, the timing of this news does raise some questions. The first being: Is Todd stepping away on his own or was he pushed out?

The short answer, at least at this moment, is we don’t know.

Todd’s title is changing from “political director” to “chief political analyst.” And during Sunday’s closing remarks on the show, Todd made it sound as if it was his idea — or, at the very least, that he is OK with it.

He said, “… the key to the survival of any of these media entities, including here at Meet the Press, is for leaders to not overstay their welcome. I’d rather leave a little bit too soon than stay a tad too long. I’ve had two amazing professional chapters and I already have plans for my next chapter, including some projects here at NBC that I’ve been very focused on: among them, docuseries and docudramas focused on trying to bridge our divides and pierce political bubbles. So while I may be leaving this chair, I’m still going to help NBC navigate and coach colleagues in this 2024 campaign season and beyond.”

Then he added, “But this is also an important time for me personally. I’ve let work consume me for nearly 30 years. I can’t remember the last time I didn’t wake up before 5 or 6 a.m., and as I’ve watched too many friends and family let work consume them before it was too late, I promised my family I wouldn’t do that.”

Of course, if NBC News is behind this move, it isn’t going to come out and say that. Just as Sunday morning’s “Meet the Press” was going on the air, NBC News president of editorial Rebecca Blumenstein and NBC News senior vice president of politics Carrie Budoff Brown sent out a memo that had nothing but praise for Todd.

You can read more about all the details of Sunday’s news in the story I wrote for Poynter when the news first broke.

But let’s get to what it all means …

Sticking up for Todd

If you’re a regular reader of this newsletter, you know that I’m a fan of Chuck Todd. I find his style of hosting to be thorough, fair and effective. He is always prepared, he communicates clearly with his audience, pushes his guests and, despite what his critics might think, does not appear to have any agenda.

But there’s no question that he is polarizing among media consumers. Actually, polarizing might be a kind way to put it. No Sunday morning host takes more arrows than Todd. His name trends on Twitter just about every Sunday, usually in a negative way. He is criticized by the left for not being hard enough on the right. And he’s criticized on the right for being too liberal.

Criticizing Todd has become cliche, something that people think they’re supposed to do to look smart and impress others on social media. I honestly believe much of the criticism comes from those who don’t actually watch “Meet the Press” but instead see a 30-second clip on Twitter — or someone’s comment about a 30-second clip on Twitter — that lacks any context whatsoever. When it comes to Todd, there’s a mob mentality and, like most mobs, those doing most of the yelling really don’t know what they’re yelling about. They’re just following the crowd. Their criticisms are vague, without details or specifics. It’s just the lazy and very general, “Chuck Todd is terrible.”

Many of those who do watch the show regularly or occasionally and don’t like Todd usually are complaining because he is not furthering their political views.

When I talked to Todd last November, he told me, “I understand why extreme activists on the left and the right get (vocal) because we’re the reality check. ‘Meet the Press’ is the reality check of what actually happened and what actually matters. The activists are all pushing what they want to matter and what they want the takeaways to be. So we’re the truth tellers. We’re the answer key. I get it. You’re bummed when your answer is not the right answer.”

He also told me, “There’s a role for activist journalism, but not on ‘Meet the Press.’ And not in mainstream media.”

Todd is right. And that’s what made him such a good moderator. His style isn’t one of pounding tables or yelling or getting in the faces, so to speak, of his guests. But that doesn’t mean he lets answers go unchecked or unchallenged. He pushes back more than he is given credit for.

But it was never going to be good enough for his critics.

During his closing remarks on Sunday’s “Meet the Press,” he said, “If you do this job seeking popularity, you are doing this job incorrectly. I take the attacks from partisans as compliments. And I take the genuine compliments with a grain of salt when they come from partisans.”

Todd’s critics didn’t like him for a variety of reasons, including that he wasn’t Russert — an unfair standard to be held to.

My guess is history isn’t going to treat Todd any kinder than he is treated now. But I think the Todd era of  “Meet the Press” — which saw Donald Trump’s rise and fall and, perhaps, rise again — should be viewed with respect. Todd navigated the show through one of the most disruptive, precarious, unsettling and partisan times in our nation’s history and he leaves the show with his journalistic integrity intact.

In other words, he did a heck of a job. Too bad more people didn’t recognize and appreciate that.

Up next

NBC News’ Kristen Welker, shown here at the 2020 presidential debate between Joe Biden and Donald Trump. (AP Photo/Julio Cortez, File)

Whether Todd is leaving on his own or it was NBC News’ call, his successor as moderator of “Meet the Press” is a deserving one. Kristen Welker has long been considered a superb journalist. She has covered the White House for more than a decade, and has filled in for Todd on “Meet the Press.” She especially made a name for herself moderating the final debate in 2020 between presidential candidates Donald Trump and Joe Biden, offering up what many described as a “master class” in how to moderate a debate that previous moderators watched fly off the rails whenever Trump was involved.

Welker also will make history. She will be the first Black woman to be the permanent host of a major network Sunday morning news show. She also will be the second woman to be the permanent moderator of “Meet the Press” (Martha Rountree was the original host from 1947 to 1953.)

On Sunday’s “Meet the Press,” Todd said, “Just as important, I’m also ready to take a step back because I know the person whom I’m passing the baton to is somebody who’s been ready for this for a while. Kristen Welker. I’ve had the privilege of working with her from essentially her first day and let me just say she’s the right person in the right moment.”

Do the Sunday shows even matter?

After Sunday’s news about “Meet the Press” broke, I had a couple of readers (and saw some Twitter users) shrug their shoulders and ask if people even watch the Sunday shows anymore. They wondered if the shows still mattered in today’s political/media world. It’s a question I often get.

For starters, what’s the point of Sunday shows? Todd and I talked about this last November, and those of us who live and breathe politics all day long through TV, newspapers, the internet and so forth sometimes forget that the average American citizen, even those who keep up with current events, aren’t consuming media 24 hours a day or living on Twitter. Not everyone lives inside the Capital Beltway. They are busy living their lives — working, raising kids, running errands. For many, the Sunday morning shows are a good way to catch up on the latest political news. Simply put, the shows inform, educate and explain.

“(Viewers) are looking for somebody to weed out the nonsense,” Todd told me. “I feel like one of my missions each week is to focus on what mattered and let people know what didn’t matter. … What are we teaching the viewer today? How are we educating them today? I think that’s where the Sunday shows in general should stand out. We’re your weekly Ted Talk.”

Do people still watch? Not like they used to, but yeah, there is a viewership.

The Washington Post’s Jeremy Barr wrote, “During a period of declining viewership across broadcast and cable news, ‘Meet the Press’ still draws big audiences, averaging 2.57 million total viewers in the 2021 to 2022 broadcast season. Among total viewers, the show trailed its competitors on CBS (‘Face the Nation’) and ABC (‘This Week’), though it came in second place in the age demographic most valued by advertisers.”

Story of the week

CNN CEO Chris Licht, shown here last December. (Evan Agostini/Invision/AP)

The big media story last week was Tim Alberta’s major profile on CNN boss Chris Licht: “Inside the Meltdown at CNN.”

Alberta had unfettered access to Licht, and the result was a deep look into what has happened to CNN under Licht, starting with the recent Trump town hall. Licht saw it as an opportunity to reset CNN’s viewership by including those from both sides of the political aisle (and those who stand on the aisle itself), as well as gaining respect from CNN journalists. Instead, the town hall — which was effectively a Trump campaign rally — backfired into disaster.

Alberta wrote, “What was clear was that Licht knew this was bad — very, very bad. Republicans were angry at CNN. Democrats were angry at CNN. Journalists were angry at CNN. The only one who wasn’t angry, it seemed, was Trump, most likely because he’d succeeded in disgracing the network on its own airwaves.”

That’s just the opening anecdote into Alberta’s superb profile, which not only included extensive interviews with Licht, but also with nearly 100 CNN employees.

Alberta goes into fascinating detail about Licht’s style as a boss, all the issues with the topsy-turvy morning show and recently-fired co-host Don Lemon, comparisons to former CNN head Jeff Zucker, and what happened on the night of that Trump town hall.

Alberta wrote, “Licht was still coming to terms with the ferocity of the backlash later that night when CNN’s popular Reliable Sources newsletter landed in his inbox. He read the opening line in disbelief: ‘It’s hard to see how America was served by the spectacle of lies that aired on CNN Wednesday evening,’ Licht’s own media reporter, Oliver Darcy, wrote.

“Licht could handle being ridiculed by his media rivals. But being publicly scolded by someone on his own payroll — on the biggest night of his career — felt like a new level of betrayal. Licht, who just hours earlier had expressed ambivalence to me about how the event played, went into war mode.

“The next morning, he began the 9 o’clock editorial call with a telling choice of words: ‘I absolutely, unequivocally believe America was served very well by what we did last night.’”

If I quoted every interesting part of Alberta’s story here, I would basically be retyping the entire story. It’s a must-read for those who follow the media and want more insight into CNN and Licht.

The former guy

Meanwhile, The New York Times’ Benjamin Mullin wrote about CNN’s former boss, Jeff Zucker, in “Could Jeff Zucker Fix CNN? He Seems to Think So.”

Mullin writes that Zucker is still bothered by being pushed out by CNN in February 2022. The move was made, CNN said, because Zucker was having a consensual relationship with one of his key lieutenants.

“But,” Mullin wrote, “his gripes have become more frequent of late, and he has made no secret of his unhappiness with the terms of his exit from CNN or his low regard for the performance of its current leader, Chris Licht. In a sense, he is now serving as a kind of grievance switchboard for current and former employees of the news network, many people who have spoken with him said.”

Mullin spoke with more than 50 people for his story and reports what might be next for Zucker. He wrote, “… he is trying to get his next act off the ground, starting a new venture called RedBird IMI with $1 billion to spend on acquisitions in the digital media, sports, entertainment and news industries.”

Again, lots of good detail, so check it out.

It’s on film

Colorado Republican Congresswoman Lauren Boebert put out a tweet Saturday that included a video of her saying why she refused to vote on the bill last week extending the debt ceiling. She wrote that it was a “protest” and said in the video that it was a “no-show protest.” And she called it a “garbage of a bill.”

But here’s the thing. Her no-show wasn’t a protest. It was apparently because she was running late. Axios Capitol Hill reporter Juliegrace Brufke tweeted, “Rep. Lauren Boebert narrowly missed the vote, running up the steps right as they gaveled.”

And Morgan Rimmer, an associate producer at CNN, put out a video on Twitter that showed Boebert running up the Capitol steps and being told “They closed it.” Boebert kept running and said, “They closed it?”

Yep, they closed it.

Won’t let go

Fox News’ Maria Bartiromo isn’t giving up. Even after her network had to write a $787.5 million check to settle a lawsuit from Dominion Voting Systems over false election fraud claims, Bartiromo still wants to talk about election fraud.

During her “Sunday Morning Futures” program on Sunday, Bartiromo asked one guest, the founder of the Trafalgar voting group, “How much do you factor in potential voter fraud when you come up with your polling?”

Then she asked Fox News contributor and former Republican Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich, “Are the Republicans doing enough to ensure a free and fair election in 2024?”

Gingrich said, “I think it’s probably almost impossible under current law to ensure an accurate election. And I think the only Republican strategy in the long run is to pick issues and win by margins so big that they can still win if you have a very close election. Democrats have a passion for stealing them.”

That’s a jaw-dropping allegation with Gingrich offering absolutely no facts to back them up.

Gingrich also added, “In states dominated by Democrats like New York, Illinois, California, you just have to assume that the machine will steal as much as it can.”

How this is allowed to be said on air with no pushback is flabbergasting.

Here’s more, including video, from Mediaite’s Joe DePaolo, who called the conversation “surreal.” I would call it “dangerous” and “irresponsible.”

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Tom Jones is Poynter’s senior media writer for He was previously part of the Tampa Bay Times family during three stints over some 30…
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