He is similarly old-fashioned in his view of journalism. Todd sees “Rupert’s influence”—the “rise of activist journalism”— as dangerous to the neutral and skeptical voice that has defined modern American journalism. “Obviously, good journalism has been broken by point-of-view folks,” he says. “But if activist journalism becomes the norm, and if we’re supposed to be the watchdogs, the credibility of the journalism is always being questioned.” When the Daily Caller published its incriminating pieces on JournoList, a liberal media listserve in which Todd did not take part, he told Politico that the group had damaged journalistic credibility. “This has kept me up nights. I try to be fair. It’s very depressing.”
Despite those beliefs, Todd’s own credibility has faced its fair share of dings. In the middle of 2009, Salon’s Greenwald wrote a column bashing Todd for suggesting on Morning Joe that President Obama should refrain from investigating possible war crimes committed by members of the Bush administration. Todd responded in an e-mail, and Greenwald set up a debate for Salon Radio. Though Greenwald gives Todd his due for fronting up, he says the political director is symptomatic of a political media that is cowed by the corporate interests of the companies for which they report and the insider circles in which they report.
“For me, the thing journalists should want to do more than anything else is be adversarial to people in political power,” Greenwald told me over the phone from Rio de Janeiro, where he spends much of his time. “It’s the same journalists who see objectivity as their guiding star. And yet they’re willing to depart from that when they feel safe doing so—typically when they’re mouthing Beltway conventional wisdom or the consensus of the powerful officials they are supposed to be covering.”
On Todd, he adds: “Beyond that, he does nothing but repeat every outlaid media cliché that is whispered to him by the political officials he covers and the media friends who he has. That’s what he is and what he does.”
Obviously, Todd disagrees. “I think for Glenn and others, those of us in the prominent journalism assignments will always be viewed skeptically because we don’t cheerlead or we don’t advocate their beliefs,” he told me later in an e-mail. “We also have constraints that I wish we didn’t have, including the issue of being a business so we can’t delve as deep into some policy debates as many of us would like, because someone has decided it’s not good for ratings. I do believe we do our best at NBC and MSNBC to figure out how to keep pushing the envelope on this front.
“But ultimately, the blame on ‘process’ coverage lies with the elected officials. It’s amazing to me how little substance most elected officials will engage in. I think the unsatisfied partisan media critics would be wise to spend more time engaging policymakers than those charged with covering them.”
By 9:05 a.m., Todd’s back in the newsroom, anchoring The Daily Rundown solo from the same set the Morning Joe team vacated ten minutes before—Guthrie is away for the day. Though Todd insists there were teething problems when he began full-time TV reporting—writing too long, issues with tracking—he moves through the hour pretty expertly, if without too much pizzazz. He reads through a segment on “Decision 2010,” discusses Rahm Emanuel’s mayoral run with two pundits in D.C., and ends with a wry bit on a beard and moustache competition in Europe. Later, the famously goateed Todd tells producer Frederico Quadrani, “We should have played ZZ Top coming out of that.”
The day is just beginning. Todd will then sit down with me for over an hour in a small glass office—not his own—to talk for this piece, before heading into an NBC editorial board meeting and hitting the phones with senior producers from Nightly News. He will pitch them stories and report out anything that gets the green light; with any luck, he’ll be on a train back to D.C. by the afternoon to settle in with his wife and two children in Arlington for the night.