Chuck Todd, Labor Day, and Getting Serious

By Ralph Nader
September 4, 2019

Labor Day has come and gone. To most people it’s a day off and a splash of sales. The symbolism and meaning that inspired this national holiday back in 1894 has long since dissipated. Labor Day parades are affairs of the past, with very few exceptions, and those that still exist are facing dwindling participation – in the era of Donald the corporatist, no less.

Part of this neglect stems from major unions and their large locals. Labor leaders, year after year, miss the opportunity to speak through the local and national media about what’s on their mind regarding the state of workers today. I have urged labor leaders to develop a media strategy for Labor Day, since it is their one big day to give interviews and submit op-eds. Having major events or demonstrations on the needs of working families would invite coverage.

Even the usual excuse that the corporate press is not that interested goes away on Labor Day. The major labor chiefs just don’t take advantage of this yearly opportunity. That is one reason why over the years, raising the minimum wage; adopting card checks for union-desiring workers; pressing for full Medicare for All; and repealing the notorious, anti-union Taft Hartley Act of 1947 have remained at such low visibility.

On the other hand, the editors and reporters are not exactly reaching out for, say, interviews of Richard Trumka, the former coal miner who rose through the ranks and became the head of the AFL-CIO labor federation in Washington, DC. Trumka vs. Trump has a nice ring to it, but someone has to hit the bell.

This Labor Day, The Washington Post and the New York Times had touching stories of workers in various jobs from a human interest point of view. There was little space devoted to labor policies, labor reforms, worker safety, the persistent private pension crisis, and the huge power imbalance in labor/management relations.

NBC’s Meet the Press, anchored by Chuck Todd, is symptomatic of the media’s indifference to showcasing Labor leaders on Labor Day.

Chuck Todd, the quick witted former citizen organizer, has lost control of his show to his corporate masters in New York City. He cannot even stop them from replacing his show entirely on the few Sundays when the NBC profiteers think there are more profits showing a major tennis, golf, or soccer tournament. My repeated complaints about this blackout to NBC chief, Andrew Lack, or to the corporatist chairman of the Federal Communications Commission, have received no reply.

Obviously, Chuck is working in a tough environment for any self-respecting journalist. But this past Sunday, Meet the Press reached a new low from its beginnings under the news-savvy Lawrence Spivak over 70 years ago. Meet the Press has become a ditto-head to the regular news shows’ saturation coverage. Todd covered Hurricane Dorian and the shootout in Texas, along with whether Joe Biden is too old for the Presidency. Repetitious and dull – he added nothing new for the audience.

The shrinking range of Meet the Press has been going on for some years. It focuses, with other network shows, on questioning politicians or their surrogates – sometimes the same guests on multiple shows – about inconsistencies, gaffes, thoughtless statements, or current political controversies. We don’t need to see yet another round with Trump’s Kellyanne Conway, who plays with Todd’s sharp questions.

The NBC corporate masters tell or signal to Todd who he can invite for his roundtable. He should never have corporatists from the American Enterprise Institute without having people from the Economic Policy Institute, Public Citizen, or Common Cause.

Brit Hume, before he went over to Fox, once told me that the real purpose of the Sunday shows was to let the Washington politicians have their say so they stay off the back of the networks. That was his way of explaining why the questions put to them were not as tough or deep as they could be.

Todd can be a tough questioner, but he is trapped in a cul-de-sac of predictability, trivia, and redundancy that demeans his talents.

Along with the other Sunday morning network news shows, Todd stays away from the all-important civic community – historically and presently the fountainhead for our democratic society. It is hard to name any blessing of America, great or small, that did not start with the work or demands of citizens. Improved civil rights and liberties, safer consumer products, workplace conditions and environments, nuclear arms treaties, and much more began this way. Citizen groups continue as watchdogs, documenting, litigating, lobbying, and pushing the powers that be on behalf of the American people.

In 1966, I was invited on Meet the Press by the legendary Lawrence Spivak to first highlight, on Sunday national TV, what needs to be done about unsafe cars. That helped auto safety action to move faster in Congress. The civic leaders of today are largely shut out from these forums. Civic startups cannot reach larger audiences and shape the politics of the day.

None of this is unknown to Chuck Todd. He has allowed his hands to be tied with golden handcuffs. One can almost sense his impatience with his roundtable guests spouting guarded opinions or conventional speculations suited to their current careers. But Chuck is very polite with them and his interviewees. As he has said, if you really go after these guests, they won’t come back next time. But why such a small pool? There are plenty of other fresh, courageous, accurate voices he can invite “next time.”  It’s that his corporate bosses won’t let him.

Todd has much more potential than to continue his increasingly trivialized, though sometimes temporarily sensationalized, role as an anchor of a withering show “brought to you by Boeing.” He should request reassignment or resign for more significant journalistic challenges. He really doesn’t need the money anymore.

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