Monday, January 16, 2023

An Actual Interview

This took place on May 1, 2022:

Tweeters and, it appears, comedians love to take shots at Chuck Todd for allegedly going easy on guests. From time to time, Nicole Wallace, Rachel Maddow, and  Lawrence O'Donnell- the most popular personalities on MSNBC- ask a follow-up question, rather easy when your practice is to interview or chat with guests they agree with.  On the same network, Brian Williams had quite a run- until he voluntarily retired- in prime time rarely, if ever, asking any question, let alone a follow-up question. 

If Noah's charge were accurate, there certainly are notable exceptions. If there weren't, Republican Senator Ron Johnson wouldn't have melted like a snowflake 8 or 9 months later.

The relevant exchange from Meet the Press on January 16, 2003:

CHUCK TODD: Senator, senator, do you have a crime that you think Hunter Biden committed because I've yet to see anybody explain. It is not a crime to make money off of your last name.

SEN. RON JOHNSON: So, Chuck, you ought to read the Marco Polo report, where they detail all kinds of potential crimes. You know, Senator Grassley has certainly uncovered the --

CHUCK TODD :Oh, hold on, let me stop you there. Potential. This is -- senator, potential is innuendo.

SEN. RON JOHNSON: About, about, about, about, $30,000 --

CHUCK TODD: This is why you do investigations.

SEN. RON JOHNSON: I mean, Chuck, is it a crime to be soliciting and purchasing prostitution in potentially European sex trafficking operations? Is that a crime? Because Chuck Grassley and I laid out about $30,000 paid by Hunter Biden to those types of individuals over December of 2018, 2019, about $30,000. That's about the same time that President Biden offered to pay about $100,000 of Hunter Biden's bills. I mean, again, that's just some information. I don't know exactly if it's a crime.

CHUCK TODD: Here's what I don't get. All right, Senator --

SEN. RON JOHNSON: It doesn't really look -- it sounds sleazy as you know what.

CHUCK TODD: I’ll -- I'll take you, I’ll take you at your word that you're ethically bothered by Hunter Biden. I'm curious, though, you seem to have a pattern --

SEN. RON JOHNSON: Are you not? Are you not?

CHUCK TODD: You seem to have a pattern. I'm a journalist. I have to deal in facts.

SEN. RON JOHNSON: Are you not?

CHUCK TODD: I deal in facts. Senator, my question to you is, I'm always worried, I have skepticism of both parties. I sit here with skepticism of a lot of people's work --


CHUCK TODD: -- and I'm curious, are you, were you at all concerned? This -- Senate Democrats want to investigate Jared Kushner's loan from the Qatari government when he was working in the government negotiating many things in the Middle East. Are you not as concerned about -- are you not concerned about that? And I say that because it seems to me if you're concerned about what Hunter Biden did, you should be equally outraged about what Jared Kushner did.

SEN. RON JOHNSON: I'm, I’m concerned about getting the truth. I don't target individuals, target individuals. I target the truth.

CHUCK TODD: You don't? You’re targeting Hunter Biden multiple times on this show, Senator.

SEN. RON JOHNSON: My concern -- my -- my --

CHUCK TODD: You're targeting an individual.

SEN. RON JOHNSON: Chuck, Chuck. My concern -- you know, Chuck. You know, part of the problem, and this is pretty obvious to anybody watching this, is you don't invite me on to interview me, you invite me on to argue with me. You know, I'm just trying to lay out the facts that certainly Senator Grassley and I uncovered. They were suppressed. They were censored. They interfered in the 2020 election. Conservatives understand that. Unfortunately, liberals in the media don't. And that's part of the things that -- part of the reasons our politics are inflamed is we do not have an unbiased media. We don't. It's unfortunate. I'm all for free press.

CHUCK TODD: Well, Senator --

SEN. RON JOHNSON: It needs to be more unbiased.

CHUCK TODD: Senator, look, this is --

SEN. RON JOHNSON: There's misinformation on both sides --

CHUCK TODD: Look, go to partisan --

SEN. RON JOHNSON: -- but the censorship and suppression --

CHUCK TODD: Senator -- Senator -- look, we’re trying to do issues here and facts.

SEN. RON JOHNSON: -- primarily occurs on the left.

CHUCK TODD: Partisan cable --

SEN. RON JOHNSON: It's frustrating.

CHUCK TODD: Look, you can go back on your partisan cable cocoon and talk about media bias all you want. I understand it's part of your identity. Let me move to what happened in Brazil. And I want to play something that Former Vice President Mike Pence said about what happened in Brazil. "It is evident that what happens in the United States has repercussions around the world. I have no doubt that that tragic day in January of 2021 in this country played some role in sowing the seeds of what's taking place in Brazil." Do you agree with Mike Pence?

The questioning wasn't perfect. Before Todd concluded the topic with righteous indignation, he charged "you can go back on your partisan cable cocoon," a "part of your identity." Prior to that, he had remarked "if you're concerned about what Hunter Biden did, you should be equally outraged about what Jared Kushner did." When Johnson objected, Todd charged him with "targeting Hunter Biden multiple times on this show." The Senator interjected, and Todd repeated "you're targeting an individual."  

Evidently this got under Johnson's skin, because the Senator complained "you don't invite me on to interview me, you invite me on to argue with me." Perhaps Johnson knew of Todd's reputation- partially deserved- of going easy on interviewees. Or maybe he has seen other shows on MSNBC, where the host rarely asks a difficult question of the guest and, if one guest disagrees with another, typically is loathe to seek a clarification (apologies here to Chris Hayes, a notable exception).

So this was among Chuck Todd's finest hours. It's what should be expected of the venerable Meet the Press. However, though Todd often falls short, so, too, does virtually every host on MSNBC. And on this occasion he did as far too few cable news hosts do.

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