NBC’s Chuck Todd has taken to the pages of The Atlantic to call on his fellow journalists to take down Fox News, charging that Fox News founder Roger Ailes has waged a concerted 50-year campaign to divide the American people and demonize legitimate journalism.
Mr. Todd’s call to arms won quick applause from his colleagues who hate Fox News even in the post-Ailes era for its shortcomings, but mostly for its conservative “bias,” but it ignited a backlash the “Meet the Press” host reacted to with astonishment.
He was quick to argue via Twitter though that all his critics can really do is attack him personally because they cannot rebut his indictment of conservative media or his defense of his “unbiased” journalism. Mr. Todd displayed a remarkably thin skin while claiming that one of President Trump’s signal failings is that it is he who he takes everything personally.
But it is Mr. Todd’s “analysis” that amounts to little more than a personal attack on those with whom he disagrees. He attacks the late Mr. Ailes and his colleagues for what he deems their motives, derides their opinions and declares whatever evidence they produce to back them up as false and never concedes that they might actually believe what they say.
Mr. Todd may claim to be unbiased even while admitting as he did recently that he and his colleagues went “easy” on Hillary Clinton during her race for the White House. He claims this was not bias, but a fear that if they were hard on her they might have been charged with sexism as if admitting to cowardice is more acceptable than an admission that their actions might conceivably been affected by the biases conservatives have been charging them with long before the founding of Fox.
Chuck Todd is a smart guy and should know that anyone who has followed his career or watched his Sunday show knows that he has never been able to stomach either conservatives or Donald Trump.
Like former Clinton aide George Stephanopoulos, former “Tip” O’Neil spokesman Chris Matthews and other former Democratic operatives hired by the major networks, Mr. Todd migrated to journalism from the ranks of Democratic campaign operatives, something he seems loath to admit. Oh, he admits that everyone has their biases; after all, he says, he grew up in Miami and is therefore more interested in Cuban politics than others, but never mentions the possibility of any ideological or partisan bias.
One would never know by listening to him that he’s worked in Democratic campaigns and knocked on doors to promote liberal causes as a political activist. This lack of transparency is nowhere as apparent as in the opening of his Atlantic piece. He lets us know that he’s “devoted much of my professional life to the study of political campaigns, not as a historian or an academic but as a reporter and an analyst.”
Transparency, a virtue he extols in other contexts, might have been better served with an admission that he’s also seen campaigns from the inside as, well, a partisan.
There is nothing wrong with an activist taking a job with NBC or Fox and everyone carries their biases with them, but journalists are not born anew rising from the shell like a Botticelli Venus. Truth in labelling is a concept too many ignore or only insist upon from others.
When I accepted a job as Opinion editor at The Washington Times, liberal groups like Media Matters demanded that transparency required that whenever I opined on issues touching on the Second Amendment, I should make it clear that I had previously served as president of the National Rifle Association. I was proud of my association with the NRA and the conservative movement in general, and alerted readers to my bias. Even so, I was Opinion editor, and hired not just to have but to express my opinions or biases in print.
Mr. Todd, though, sees himself as a reporter rather than a commentator and wants us to believe that unlike the folks with whom he disagrees we should regard his reports and analysis as bias free, so he feels no obligation to highlight his own political or ideological inclinations. Mr. Todd sees himself as a truth teller. His facts are real, while those cited by others are “alternative” facts and should be viewed differently than those he cites. “Alternative facts are not facts,” he says, “they’re falsehoods.”
What really seems to upset him is that he and his colleagues don’t get the respect they believe they deserve and are appalled at the fact that not everyone takes what he says as holy writ, but he takes some comfort in the knowledge that it’s Roger Ailes’ fault and not traceable to any shortcomings of his own.
One wonders how Mr. Todd explains the fact that young people who are not regular viewers of Fox News have come to be even less trusting of the mainstream media than those whose brains have been laundered by the likes of Tucker Carlson, Sean Hannity and Laura Ingraham.
Someday, if Mr. Todd and his buddies at NBC would look into the mirror rather than the camera they might discover that Fox isn’t journalism’s only problem.
• David A. Keene is an editor at large for The Washington Times.
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