The late Tim Russert had a reputation of meticulous preparation for his Sunday turns on “Meet the Press.” Guests from both parties feared what Russert would dig up and bring to the table. Russert hired Chuck Todd from The Hotline newsletter in 2007 to be an NBC political reporter. But Todd doesn’t seem to be channeling the spirit of Russert in his own preparation.
On Sunday, Todd mangled a short clip from a CBS interview with Attorney General William Barr. CBS reporter Catherine Herridge asked Barr what history would say about his department’s decision to drop charges against former national security adviser Michael Flynn. Barr quipped, “history is written by the winner, so it largely depends on who’s writing the history.”
Todd only ran that fraction and proclaimed to columnist Peggy Noonan: “I was struck, Peggy, by the cynicism of the answer. It’s a correct answer, but he’s the attorney general. He didn’t make the case that he was upholding the rule of law. He was almost admitting that, yeah, this is a political job.”
He recklessly ignored the rest of Barr’s noncynical answer. In fact, Barr did make that case. “But I think a fair history would say that it was a good decision because it upheld the rule of law,” he said. “It upheld the standards of the Department of Justice, and it undid what was an injustice.”
Conservatives on Twitter such as Greg Price of The Daily Caller quickly cried foul. Justice Department spokeswoman Kerri Kupec tweeted a protest. This was such an obvious error that even liberal site PolitiFact, which rarely types a discouraging word against the mainstream media, tagged it false on its Truth-O-Meter.
On Sunday evening, the “Meet the Press” Twitter account confessed in a reply to Kupec: “Earlier today, we inadvertently and inaccurately cut short a video clip of an interview with AG Barr before offering commentary and analysis.” It also placed the note at the bottom of the online transcript.
As Steve Krakauer pointed out, this admission was surely missed by most of the “Meet the Press” account’s 630,000-plus followers because the reply would have only been seen by mutual followers of the show and Kupec. Todd offered no apology on his Twitter account. None of that can be described as “inadvertent.”
Did Todd fail to watch the full CBS interview with Barr? Could he at least try to finish watching Barr’s entire answer to the history question? The full transcript was posted on the CBS website. Todd has reached a pinnacle of NBC News, and he can’t find the time to do any research?
Since he doesn’t work Mondays on MSNBC’s “MTP Daily,” Todd issued an on-air apology on Tuesday, more than 48 hours later. He proclaimed that NBC didn’t slice the interview into pieces: “We did not edit that out. That was not our edit. We didn’t include it, because we only saw the shorter of two clips that CBS did air. We should have looked at both and checked for a full transcript.”
Sounds like he’s blaming CBS. Doing so would be wrong.
The full clip on “history” did air on “CBS This Morning” on May 8. The half clip on history aired “Evening News With Norah O’Donnell” on May 7. But seconds before, CBS ran another sound bite of Barr saying: “I want to make sure that we restore confidence in the system. There’s only one standard of justice.” When Herridge asked if he was doing the president’s bidding, Barr protested, “I’m doing the law’s bidding.”
It’s ridiculous for Todd to blame NBC’s laziness and false impressions on CBS. Tim Russert should be rolling in his grave.
Tim Graham is director of media analysis at the Media Research Center and executive editor of the blog NewsBusters.org. To find out more about Tim Graham, and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at www.creators.com.