Wisconsins Morning News

Gene's Blog: "Don't worry about being liked": Chuck Todd shares media thoughts

A night with the Meet The Press moderator

Why does 40% of America think we're lying?

Chuck Todd posed that question and shared all manner of other takes during his Friday night with nearly 400 folks at the annual Milwaukee Press Club Gridiron Dinner at the Pfister, our group's annual awards ceremony during which local journalists are honored and a member of the national press receives our "Sacred Cat.' Mr. Todd joins the likes of Walter Cronkite, Cokie Roberts and David Fahrenthold in the group of honorees.

Speaking just 14 months before Milwaukee will be his de facto home when the DNC nominates a presidential candidate here (he says if there's EVER going to be a brokered convention, ours could be it) he reminded reporters present and future (we also honor college work) of the reportorial basics. "Our job is to always challenge," he said, and that "we need to be an advocate for the viewer." He shared that he prepares for interviews in hopes that someone at home will be saying, "I'm was hoping you were going to ask that question." He's no fan of social media and worries about broadcast commentators and contributors who he says will say something on-air and then check Twitter/Facebook feeds on-set to see how their comments are playing. That said, he urged all to embrace new technology as if you are still in your early 20's, even though most of us in attendance left that demo a while ago.

Todd hopes reporters learn to "show your work", allowing readers/viewers/listeneres in on the process from start to finish, something he says the New York Times is doing more and more of. That, he says, is one way to win back the trust of that 40% who think the media lies or cranks out "fake news."

 "If we were making it up," Todd says, "we'd be fired." 

Among his biggest concerns: what he calls the "situational ethics" in our poliltical system, one that, for example, finds that the party that used to be full of deficit hawks caring not about national debt once it wins the White House: hypocracy he says both parties are guilty of and that the press needs to call out. 

Looking ahead to what comes after Democrats leave Milwaukee next summer, Todd sees a campaign that's "nasty, ugly" with massive voter interest, citing the huge 2018 mid-term turn-out as proof even more folks will cast ballots in the fall of 2020. Who'll be the nominee? Depends, he says, as Republicans tend to fall in line behind a candidate while Democrats instead fall in love. How that shapes how their ticket is received in the weeks moving forward will play a large part at the ballot box. Todd doubts there's a future for a third party moving forward--only two teams play for a championship, he says--but thinks there could be an alternative presidential ticket in 2020, depending on how things play out.

Circumstances and Democratic party rules changes could bring Todd the brokered convention he sorely hopes to cover at least once in his career. Big states have early primaries, he reminds us, and the field could stay large or fail to develop a clear cut front-runner and possibly no one having enough delegates in the fold before they convene at Fiserv.

Todd wants that brokered gig badly--but not as much as he wants to see the Packers in more Super Bowls, plural. He sported a Packers tie Friday night (one he deemed "least obnoxious"), his fandom dating back to days with his late dad in small-town Iowa. When somoeone challenged his Green Bay bona-fides barside after Friday night's event, he promptly dropped deep knowledge and long forgotten names like David Whitehurst to prove his loyalty runs deep and long, dating back to times before the franchise's 1990's return to glory. He has strong takes (not a fan of the departed Mike McCarthy's play-calling) and he wonders what happens if Aaron Rodgers doesn't deliver this season, fearing prolonged mediocrity if #12 can't perform to previous standards.

Of all the time spend and all the things seen Friday night, perhaps none was better than seeing Todd with students before we tossed out the first cocktail. When another Press Club member and I were about to go to his room to get him down to a pre-arranged Q-and-A with future journalists before dinner, we walked by a small meeting room on the side only to see him already there, shooting the breeze and treating the kids like professional equals. For a long time. They chatted through the cocktail session (and yes, there were selfies). to the point where I was barely able to get him to the dinner table as the formal proceedings began.

Journalism's woes didn't get fixed Friday night, but they got a solid, honest airing out by one of the best known names in the broadcast business. Watch his entire chat here. Todd's stay last night was brief--he had a car waiting for him at 4.a.m. Saturday for a flight back home. It's a trip  that he'll be taking many, many times in the months ahead before the last vote is counted in November 2020, what with Wisconsin's role in what looks to be an amazing year in national politics and the country's history. Maybe somewhere in there, he can get that long-awaited trip to Lambeau. He's never been to a game there, much less even finding time to do an off-day tour. That's what happens when the thing that pays your rent airs live each Sunday morning, 52 weeks a year.

Glad Chuck Todd was able to squeeze us in Friday night, even if just for a while.




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