“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.
The schedule can be grueling. “That’s the hardest part of this,” he said. “I always say it’s more like being a doctor; you’re always on call. I’m mindful of that to the point that I drink less, which is kind of sad. I’m just mindful in general. You’ve got to always be sharp.”
Todd is also mindful of the critics—both reasonable and crazed—who have taken their aim at his rising star. And his response to them belies his idealistic view of politics and the media; and the similarities he is beginning to see between them. “I know that some people are always going to judge me and that’s their business,” he told me. “The sad part of this is that members of the media are now living life the way elected officials live—everything is under scrutiny. I’ve gotten crazy hate mail. My wife’s gotten crazy hate e-mail. There are elements on both sides that are trying to destroy journalism, to destroy elements of the mainstream media—for sport.”
Later, in an e-mail, he elaborated on this point: “The easiest thing to do these days is criticize the media in some sort of ‘collective’ attack. The left and right see it as good politics, or perhaps that the more the so-called MSM is discredited by partisans, the more the partisans will get the ears of the policymakers, and that in turn could lead to more ‘bubble’ elected officials who don’t even engage with anyone other than folks who agree with them.”
The sentiment reminded me of something Todd said the day we met. As our interview wrapped up—and his last long pause of the day came to an end—he stopped to reflect: “I feel like we all know the media has a serious cold, a serious virus. We all know it’s sick, but we’re not sure how and when it’s going to get better.” Whatever you think of Todd, there’s no denying he’s working very hard on his own version of a cure.
With that we say goodbye. Todd heads off to a meeting, and later, to catch the 5 p.m. train back to D.C., to do it all again tomorrow.