Thursday, December 26, 2019

Mess the Press

Meet the Press with its original host, Martha Rountree, via Eyes of a Generation.

Happy Boxing Day!

A lot of talk going on about the belated discovery of Chuck Todd, political director of NBC News and current host of Sunday morning's ancient Meet the Press, that the Trump campaign and administration are untruthful sometimes and may be doing it on purpose, as reported the other day in Rolling Stone. Chuck Todd is shocked—shocked!

It looks as if this unexpected insight arose from an earlier incident, also reported in Rolling Stone, when Todd was interviewing Senator Cruz on his show:
On Meet the Press on Sunday, Chuck Todd asked Republican Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, “Do you believe Ukraine meddled in the election in 2016?”
Cruz replied, “I do, and I think there’s considerable evidence.”
Todd’s eyes immediately widened in astonishment while he responded, “You do?” and viewers could hear laughter from the show’s studio.
Todd then went through a historical laundry list of Cruz being smeared by Trump while telling the senator that “it strikes me as odd” that Cruz wouldn’t be suspicious of Trump creating “false narratives” and may be doing the same with the debunked Ukrainian meddling fabrication to help himself politically.
“Senator, this sort of strikes me as odd, because you went through a primary campaign with this president. He launched a birtherism campaign against you. He went after your faith. He threatened to quote ‘spill the beans’ on your wife about something. He pushed a National Enquirer story, which we now know, he had a real relationship with the editors,” Todd said.
It's interesting, in an unpleasant way, to wonder what Chuck means by that, and what is the immediate relevance of the lies Trump spread about Cruz in 2016: was it that Cruz should have known the Ukraine meddling story was bogus? because anybody who reads the papers knows it was bogus or because Trump told bogus stories about Cruz three years ago? or that he must have known and should have been willing to say so? because truth is important, or to pay Trump back? Would Chuck have been less surprised if Trump had told lies only about Hillary Clinton, or only about Democrats, in the 2016 campaign? Where's the line across which lies, for Chuck, start to get "odd"?

I should say that I never watch Meet the Press myself, or pretty much any daytime TV, other than the very occasional sporting event, and don't understand why anybody would watch Meet the Press in particular, which is pretty evidently little or nothing more than a big spin room mostly for Republicans (people in my Twitter feed are constantly complaining that only Republicans even get on), other than to fly into a rage, which I get a sufficient amount of from radio and the written word.

Chuck seems to take a different view on its importance:
for good or bad, our show has been at the forefront of this. The first Sunday of the Trump administration is when the phrase, “alternative facts” was debuted. It was on Meet the Press Rudy that Giuliani used the phrase “Truth isn’t truth.” So look, whether we’d liked it or not, our platform has been used, or they’ve attempted to use our platform to essentially disseminate, or to sort of, what I would say, is lay the groundwork for this.
He's shocked that his program is being used this way.

Jay Rosen has an excellent discussion of the whole silly thing, focusing particularly on the key point that Chuck doesn't plan to do anything about this situation, beyond the offer of a one-off "special edition" of MTP featuring experts on disinformation Masha Gessen and Ambassador Michael McFaul, who will note maybe that nothing has been done about the disinformation problem in Russia.
So what will they do now? My answer: they have no earthly idea. This is what I mean by an epistemological crisis. Chuck Todd has essentially said that on the right there is an incentive structure that compels Republican office holders to use their time on Meet the Press for the spread of disinformation. So do you keep inviting them on the air to do just that? If so, then you are breaking faith with the audience and creating a massive problem in real time fact-checking. If not, then you just broke the show in half.
I don't know either, other than to suggest that everybody just stop watching the Sunday shows altogether.

Cross-posted at The Rectification of Names.

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