“Meet the Press” celebrates its 70th birthday Sunday with a look back at some of its most historic moments. But is television’s longest running show 70 years old or 70 years young? Host Chuck Todd — a mere 45 himself — has hosted the program for three years, and under his direction, viewership has grown, along with brand extensions. He launched MSNBC’s “MTP Daily” in 2015, more recently an “MTP” podcast. In August, “MTP” and Todd (also political director of NBC News) created a film festival in association with the American Film Institute. The first will be held this month in Washington, D.C. The goal: to create documentaries under the “MTP” banner.
I spoke recently with Todd, a Florida native and father of two. An edited version of our conversation:
Assess your run these past three years. Have your goals been met?
One goal here is to make “Meet the Press” feel bigger than what it was when I took over. The Sunday shows have always had relevancy, but I didn’t like the sense that there were diminishing returns, and a saturation issue. I wanted to make certain it had relevance in our 21st century news cycle and in that sense I feel we’re making progress.
But what is “MTP’s” role in the vast, unruly world of instant information?
As an outsider [before hosting], I viewed it as the place that’s supposed to help us understand what it all means and why things are happening the way they are. I still view it through that prism — we are the explanatory part of journalism.
A long-standing criticism, however, of “MTP” is that it’s where the Washington establishment talks to the Washington elite. Is it still an echo chamber?
I’ve always viewed this as where we explain Washington to America and America to Washington. That’s the nexus. Yes, there are lot of insiders, but this is obviously the seat of power.
As moderator, is it tougher and tougher to get people off message in Washington, your recent exclusive interview with Rep. Steve Scalise and gun regulation as an example?
This is where the issue of things going viral comes in. Politicians are so afraid of expressing nuance because it gets exploited by opponents. It’s what social media has done to our discourse. You can take a phrase and bury someone . . . [so] politicians in general continue to build up a wall behind where it’s just safer. I give Scalise credit, though. He didn’t mealy-mouth his position, where others will try to give you an answer that seems to be pleasing to both sides.
Let’s talk President Trump. Is the breach between the establishment media — which “MTP” symbolizes — and this administration irreparable?
I have always joked that the worst thing to have in a relationship is the other person not having any feelings. This president cares a lot about all of us! He’s a little more obsessed with NBC because he used to work for NBC and this has always been sort of the home network to him. He watches us habitually. But it isn’t irreparable. He trashes us and gets angry at me. Then he’ll call on the phone. It’s not at all irreparable.
Since “What I’m Obsessed About” is a regular “MTP Daily” feature, what are you really obsessed about?
I’m really obsessed about documentaries. I’ve got a ton of stuff that I’d like to do more deep dives on, but it’s so hard to do on a daily or weekly basis. I hope that for what [ESPN’s] “30 on 30” means to you, then one day “MTP” films will mean the same. [At the film festival], we’re making a call for submissions and hopefully will make one a year. I hope in 10 years, when we’re talking about the 80th anniversary, I’m a part-time documentarian, too.