In the four months after Chuck Todd took the reins of NBC's Meet the Press, guest diversity on the program showed notable improvement, with the show under his tenure becoming more diverse than its competitors on the other three broadcast networks and CNN. Todd tells Media Matters the show is striving to reflect the reality of 21st century politics while also crediting his young staff for urging the program to not only rely on a “white male perspective.”
As part of our annual analysis of the Sunday morning political shows, Media Matters found that only 54 percent of Meet the Press guests were white men from when Todd took over hosting duties from David Gregory on September 7 through the end of 2014.
While that number is high relative to the overall population, it represents a seven-point drop compared to 2014 guests during Gregory's tenure. The figure also made Todd's Meet the Press more diverse by that measure than CNN's State of the Union, ABC's This Week, Fox's Fox News Sunday, or CBS' Face the Nation -- beating the latter two programs by more than ten percentage points.
Breaking the numbers down further, 28 percent of Todd's guests were women and 28 percent were people of color, both improvements from Gregory's totals and more diverse by those measures than the other four programs.
In an interview with Media Matters, Todd downplayed the improvement but said that diversity is a key to the program.
“We're a 21st century political news show. Politics is defined more and more -- some political debates and political disagreements are defined sometimes a lot more on gender, on race, on ethnicity, on religion,” he said Tuesday. “It's hard to be a political show and not reflect that reality.”
When Todd spoke with Media Matters back in October, he said improved diversity was a “front-burner issue” for the program. He also highlighted the need for geographical diversity among guests, to avoid the show falling into the trap of “socioeconomic groupthink.”
Asked about the increased diversity in his first four months as host, Todd stressed that such improvements are just good journalism and said that more needs to be done.
“We've got to continue to reflect diversity,” he said. “One of the things I told you before is that I think that diversity is geographic, I think we need to work on that.”
Todd explained that racial diversity is important to the show, citing as an example a discussion on last Sunday's program about President Obama's comments at the National Prayer Breakfast invoking the Crusades.
“Stephen Henderson, editorial page editor of the Detroit Free Press, he brought up a point that hadn't been brought up by anyone else on the panel,” Todd recalled about the African-American editor. “About how some of this criticism was less about what the president said about the Crusades and more about what he said about how Christianity was used in race, in Jim Crow and things like that. That's just something that an African-American ear is going to hear before a white ear is going to hear. We're all focused on the Crusades aspect of it and somebody else, another ethnicity is going to hear something else. Whether that's right or wrong it doesn't matter, but that point of view needs to be out there. It is another reminder of 'why does this matter? Here's why it matters.' I'd be missing a piece of the debate.”
Todd credited his staff in part for the improved diversity, including new members of the staff brought on after he became host of the program, and younger people who stress its importance.
“It is just the people I surround myself with, it's a staff-wide effort,” he said. “Some staff is new. Maybe it's a tone we're setting ... I also have a fairly young staff. I think millennials do say, 'hey, let's not just have the white male perspective.'”
But he stressed that geographic diversity needs to be improved.
“I certainly am not satisfied on the geographic front,” Todd said. “The thing I want to work on even more is the non-Washington voices. Part of it is sometimes the debates are here so sometimes there's not a lot you can do about that. I certainly think as the presidential campaign heats up it is definitely more important for us to have that geographic diversity.”
Todd said he plans to take the show on the road more to keep the show from being consumed by Beltway thinking, especially as the 2016 campaign nears.
“There is still, I think, a disconnect between Washington and where the bases of the two parties are,” Todd said. “I do think their disconnect is growing more and more. Washington knows that there's a populist movement out there but there is this feeling that the Washington perspective is 'how do you quell it? How do you calm the populist movement down?' Where it's more out in America, okay they're looking for a seat at the table.”