Chuck Todd On Media Sexism And “Disease” Of Fatigue Toward Hillary Clinton

Part Three Of A Three-Part Interview Series

Chuck Todd hopes the media has “grown up” and will avoid sexist coverage of Hillary Clinton's potential 2016 presidential run.

In the final installment of Media Matters' three-part interview series with Todd, the new Meet the Press host discusses the challenges facing media outlets covering a possible Clinton White House bid.

During her 2008 presidential run, Clinton faced near-constant sexism from the press. Asked whether things might be different if Clinton chooses to run in 2016, Todd explained he'd “like to think the media's grown up about that.” Nonetheless, he cautioned, “Identity politics can sometimes bring out the worst in people on the left and right.”

According to Todd, the Clintons' decades-long presence in the public eye presents challenges for both her potential campaign and for reporters that might eventually cover it.

In a September interview with PBS host Charlie Rose, Todd said that the press often misrepresents the idea that there is a “Clinton fatigue problem,” explaining that the “fatigue”  actually rests with the press and not people in the Democratic Party, with whom the former secretary of state is very popular. Todd expanded on those comments to Media Matters, saying that media outlets need to avoid "'been there, done that' disease."

Todd said that outlets need to utilize their long history of covering Clinton while being wary of “preconceived notions” and employing a “fresh set of eyes.”

Clinton herself recently lamented the tendency of the press to focus on “the best angle, quickest hit, the biggest embarrassment” at the expense of more substantive news. Todd agreed with Clinton, saying that “what gets the attention and what gets clicks” for political reporters is “the gotcha moment.” But he added that “the media isn't doing it on their own.”  Pointing to the proliferation of opposition research on both sides, Todd said that while it used to be utilized by the press merely to highlight hypocrisy, it's turned into “where's every negative thing I can find.”

“So it doesn't matter how responsible 70 percent of the journalism community is,” Todd said.  “There's always a 30 percent chunk that is willing to just take whatever's handed them.” He added,  “it doesn't matter if the mainstream media is responsible when you have the 10,000 other outlets to get below-the-belt stuff out, right?”

The first part of the interview series covered Todd's thoughts on the media's handling of scandals and crises. Part two focused on Todd's goals for Meet the Press.

Relevant transcript from Todd's Media Matters interview has been published with each part.

Answers covered in part three are below:

MEDIA MATTERS: Now, you talk about 2016. Hillary Clinton criticized the press just recently for making it harder for qualified candidates who want to serve in office and run. She said that rather than giving people information so they can make decision -- so they can be decision-makers, the press is overly focused on, quote,  “the best angle, quickest hit, the biggest embarrassment.”

TODD: Right.

MEDIA MATTERS: Do you think the press focuses too much on that kind of politics of destruction and not enough on policies?

TODD: Well, I definitely think it --

MEDIA MATTERS: And how does that affect --

TODD: Well, here's the thing. I think that there's an array of press out there that does everything. I think that what gets the attention and what gets clicks, is what? Right? Is sort of the gotcha moment, right? But what I'm curious about -- every candidate that complains about this, are they going to not have opposition researchers feeding the press? I mean, I'm not saying -- look, the press should be grown up enough to say, “Well, what am I doing?”  But this is a two-way street. We're destroying the process together here. The media isn't doing it on their own.

MEDIA MATTERS: No. And you're obviously -- you have a whole hour to get more in-depth on things --

TODD: That's right, so I don't have this issue that --

MEDIA MATTERS: But it is something that's out there --

TODD: But my feeling is --


TODD: Opposition research -- look, here's what's happened. Right? The world of opposition research used to be an attempt to find out what in somebody's background can we make the case that they're sort of, they're hypocritical on Issue X. You know, that they haven't practiced what they've been preaching. Right? Which is, on one hand -- that's essentially what it was about. But it's now turned into basically, where's every negative thing I can find? And there's always an outlet to get it out there.

So it doesn't matter how responsible 70 percent of the journalism community is. There's always a 30 percent chunk that is willing to just take whatever's handed them. And just to take viral video and post it as fact, or just to take tracker video and just put it out there. So, I agree with her statement. I think that the entire process -- and I start with the oligarchs, the billionaires that are like, we're spending -- those guys are spending more money collectively in these races than the campaigns themselves, OK? I think it starts there.

So, you're an average public -- you're somebody that would like to get involved in public service. Here's the system you may be climbing into. You have issues you care about, but a super PAC may decide what issues you get to debate. You don't.


TODD: That's number one. Number two, let's say you've been successful in your community -- whatever you've been doing. Working in the public space, working in the private space, whatever it is. Your personal reputation is going to get scrubbed, shall we say. Let me be kind about this. Everybody's past has something that may look bad in a moment, even if it wasn't that bad at the time. And all of that gets drug out. So you have the very real possibility that your personal reputation could be in tatters by the end of the campaign. And if you lose, you've got to go back to your old job. And can you effectively do it?  It becomes almost like, it's very risky now for your personal reputation, just because of the way opposition research works now, the way the press has less and less sort of, filter, in basically -- and again, it doesn't matter if the mainstream media is responsible when you have the 10,000 other outlets to get below-the-belt stuff out, right?

So, now you're this candidate, so you have to weigh that. Oh, and then let's say you get to the Senate and Congress, and you find out unless you're in leadership, you have no say. You have no ability to actually get legislation passed anymore, the way the system is worked. And then you end up finding out that whoever you hire, they're going to be with you for two years, and then they're going to flip, go across the street, and become a lobbyist and make 10 times your salary. OK?

That's the definition of a system on the brink of breaking. Because what you then do is, you then end up with candidates -- you have a harder time -- the smartest, most successful people suddenly think public service is too much of a risk, and there's too little reward.

MEDIA MATTERS: Oh yeah, and so a lot of people are staying out --

TODD: So they pass -- correct. So, that's when I say I agree with her. But to lay the blame just at the feet of the press? We've got a whole lot of other players.

MEDIA MATTERS: Now, another thing about Clinton that you mentioned, you said about  “Clinton fatigue”  that it's a press corps problem and that it really --

TODD: The press have it. Press fatigue, not the public, yeah.

MEDIA MATTERS: How do you think reporters --

TODD: Well, I think it's a huge issue.

MEDIA MATTERS: How do you think reporters who are already bored, maybe, with fatigue, could affect news coverage? And can she --

TODD: It can happen.

MEDIA MATTERS: -- get a fair shake?

TODD: Look, this is a constant question, so I have a little test I do with myself. And I try to self-check, and I try to get people who work for me to self-check. Which is what I call, don't get “been there, done that” disease. OK? It happens a lot in politics. And when you have “been there, done that” disease, then you just assume that an African-American can't win Southern states, or you just assume -- you know what I mean? You make assumptions that were true until they're not. Right? The beauty of a democracy is that eventually, everything that you think you know changes. And then there is a new  “everything you need to know,”  and then it changes, right? I mean, you can just sometimes look at it just on -- do you know almost every state in the union has been a swing state at one point in time? Right? And it just -- because things change. Everything changes. It's constantly changes. Now, it happens incrementally, and then all of a sudden, a decade later, you look back and went,  “Oh my god. New Jersey's no longer a swing state. It's solid blue.”  Well, that isn't the way it started in 1992. Anyway, but that's just doing, you know, -- so --

MEDIA MATTERS: How does this affect Hillary [unintelligible] --

TODD: How this affects Hillary is, I think there's going to be --

MEDIA MATTERS: -- with this approach by the press?

TODD: -- a lot of a reporters who feel like they've been covering the Clintons -- and look, some of us have, in some form or another -- for 24 years.


TODD: Right? You have a built-up history. That's -- a good thing to have is history. At the same time, it can also lead to preconceived notions about somebody. And so I think that every news organization should say to themselves, “You need a” -- on somebody -- you need -- I think you need that history -- that matters -- and you need a fresh set of eyes. Right? You need a little bit of both. Now -- and this is then a challenge then for the Clinton campaign, is they also have preconceived notions about the media.


TODD: And then what happens is that can then quickly make all the old complaints, say, that an experienced reporter might have had with the old Clinton team seem relevant, and seem,  “Oh, well, they were on to something, boy, I'm getting the same treatment” type of thing. So, I think it's a challenge for her and her team, and at the same time, they have to figure out how to -- look, one of their great misjudgments, if you want to call it that, is I think that they didn't -- they were slower on the importance of the sped-up media news cycle.

MEDIA MATTERS: You mean the last time she ran?

TODD: Yes.


TODD: You know what I mean? If you were to say what was the one -- here was the most polished -- think about Bill Clinton, right? Here was the most polished politician who understood 20th century media as well as anybody --


TODD: -- cable, all this stuff, who totally seemed out of sorts when suddenly dealing with embeds and dealing with the --  you know, you're traveling -- a different set of travelling press corps and every print reporter carrying a camera, you know what I mean?


TODD: That was a new experience --

MEDIA MATTERS: It's a lot different than when he ran.

TODD: Totally.

MEDIA MATTERS: And it'll be even different this time than when she first began.

TODD: Well, and that's going to be her challenge.

MEDIA MATTERS: Now, one of the things you also brought -- you were criticized for comments about Hillary Clinton as a front-runner, saying if she were running to be the second woman president, she wouldn't even be considered a front-runner.

TODD: Correct. I was just saying --

MEDIA MATTERS: I mean, is that fair?

TODD: Well, what I was saying is that this was a part of, does she match with where the Democratic Party is today, ideologically? Right? That was about where I think the Democratic Party is certainly to the left of where she was in '07. Now, you can argue that she has been sort of on political hiatus domestically, right? That she has been -- when you are serving as secretary of state, you actually are not allowed to be in the political realm, right?


TODD: You are not allowed to be in campaigns, things like that. So I think that was the statement I made. I know some of the critics -- it's always funny to me sometimes when people want to get mad at a reporter for something, they do the same thing that they get mad at reporters for doing, which is, they don't look for context. They just want to criticize the sound bite, rather than saying, “Well, what was the full context of what they were talking about?” And of course the second, third, and fourth sentences were about, where is ideologically the Democratic Party today? Is it closer to Elizabeth Warren or is it closer to Hillary Clinton?

MEDIA MATTERS: So it wasn't so much that she was a woman, the first woman, it was more about --

TODD: Well, right. But the point is, she is able to overcome what I think are some potentially stark ideological differences --

MEDIA MATTERS: Because she would be the first woman?

TODD: I'm sorry, I think somebody's on -- the ability to elect the first woman president. And the enthusiasm that's truly there in the rank-and-file inside the Democratic Party I think can overcome the ideological differences that are inside of the party, that she could have. And that's why I said if she were running, if it weren't the phenomenon of,  “OK, let's break this glass ceiling,” there'd be more focus and attention and more concern perhaps in the progressive community about her ideological instincts. I think she's instinctually probably not necessarily where the progressive movement wants to go.

MEDIA MATTERS: How about -- let me ask you this, and I know we're probably running out of time --

TODD: And that's where -- that's the common -- that's the point I was trying to make.

MEDIA MATTERS: I want to get as many questions in as I can, because I appreciate your time.

TODD: Yeah, I have about three minutes. [inaudible]

MEDIA MATTERS: How about the sexist claims of coverage about her in 2008? Do you think there'll be more of that or will that kind of tone down?

TODD: Look, I don't know.  I think that's always an -- if -- I don't have a good answer on that. You have to put yourself -- I have not walked in the shoes of somebody who's had treatment like that, right? So, I feel like I'm not an expert on deciding what's sexist and not sexist. I'd like to think that there isn't going to be sexist coverage. You know what I mean? Like, good grief, we live in the 21st -- I can't even imagine it being treated differently anymore. I really think that -- I'd like to think the media's grown up about that.

MEDIA MATTERS: We shall hope.

TODD: Maybe I'm wrong. Now, that doesn't mean it may not get used as a political tactic one way or the other, just because that's politics sometimes? Identity politics can sometimes bring out the worst in people on the left and right. But I think for the most part -- I would like to think that in the mainstream media, you're not going to see -

MEDIA MATTERS: How about Benghazi? That's been a big issue that they've tried to nail to her, and there's been a lot of -- Fox has got a lot of inaccuracies out there and piled on. 60 Minutesobviously had a big mistake last year --

TODD: I can only defend what we've reported and what we've done.

Transcript has been lightly edited for clarity.