‘If it’s Sunday’ and it’s the GA, it’s Chuck Todd

'Meet the Press' moderator Chuck Todd will speak at Jewish Federations of North America General Assembly this weekend.
‘Meet the Press’ moderator Chuck Todd will speak at Jewish Federations of North America General Assembly this weekend.

It’s been an eventful few months for Chuck Todd, host of NBC’s Meet the Press. In early September, Todd took the helm of what many consider to be the most influential, and most historic, Sunday morning talk show – right before an important and busy midterm election; and on Nov. 11, his new book, The Stranger: Barack Obama in the White House, which is the culmination of five years of reporting and interviews with unrivaled access to the president, will be released.

Todd, who like David Gregory – his predecessor at MTP – is Jewish, will be a featured speaker in the afternoon plenary session at this weekend’s Jewish Federations of North America General Assembly in Washington, D.C.

Replacing Gregory after a messy public ordeal caused by the show’s severe drop in ratings and loss of prestige following the death of legendary MTP host Tim Russert, Todd has been busy trying to breathe fresh life into a show, and concept, that some believe might soon become a relic in today’s saturated political media environment.

In a lengthy phone interview with Washington Jewish Week, Todd, who also serves as NBC News political director, said that even with almost two months of shows already behind him, the job still feels new.


“I guess I try to think in my head that it should always feel that you’re building a new event every week. You think, ‘You’ve done a daily show for five years and you had a nice routine.’ I didn’t know doing a weekly show would feel that much more stressful and that much more work, and somehow it is,” said Todd. “But you know, part of it is that it’s a bigger platform in some ways, and you also have a big target on your back sometimes.”

Todd described his upbringing as culturally Jewish, though not very religious. As an adult, Todd’s faith is still important to him personally, yet he believes it is his responsibility as a journalist to keep his faith from affecting how he does his job, since in his opinion, religion has becomes too politicized in the United States.

Todd and his wife, Kristian Denny Todd – who is not Jewish – also feel compelled to raise their two children – Margaret, 10, and Harrison, 7 – as Jews.

“Even though my wife is not Jewish, we’re raising our kids Jewish. She’s very comfortable with Judaism and it’s important that my kids have only one living grandparent and it’s my mother,” said Todd. “My kids, as far as they’re concerned, they’re fully Jewish. They don’t know anything different. They don’t know about this ‘half-stuff this, half stuff that.’ All they know is that they have to go to Hebrew school twice a week, which, you know, sometimes the boy doesn’t get so excited about.”

With his heavy and high-profile workload, Todd sees the biggest challenge of his career is maintaining a balance between work and family. “I think that’s the biggest challenge – being a good father and a good husband; I think about that more and more every day now.”

With the conclusion of the midterm election season, Todd might hopefully catch a month or two break before the jockeying for the 2016 presidential election starts, although that’s unlikely with his upcoming book release.

Published by Little, Brown and Company, The Stranger is Todd’s insider’s look at the personality and psychology of President Obama after six years in office. His presidency began with a tremendous burst of hope and activity but appears to be ending without Obama having transformed Washington or made more of his vision come to fruition.

Although Todd was originally hesitant to write this book despite urging from his publisher and its arrival comes two years later than originally planned, Todd is happy with the result and timing of its release.

“I’m more pleased with having it out after the midterms,” he said. “If you’re trying to write a book about the Obama presidency, you want most of it to be over before you start drawing conclusions.”

What convinced Todd to contribute to the slew of books about the president, including those by Obama himself, is the acknowledgement of the incredible opportunity he had been given to serve as NBC News’ chief White House correspondent prior to taking on MTP.

“I just think I had a unique vantage point, right? I was covering him for NBC News so I got to see him up close – as close as any reporter is going to be able to see him,” Todd said. “But look, it’s a historical presidency no matter what. I feel like I certainly understand Washington and what my book basically attempts to do is to try to answer the question of why has he struggled in conquering Washington. That’s essentially the riddle of his presidency: but if not for the struggles in Washington, what could he have been? What could he be doing? And you know, it’s been a constant – whether it’s with the military, whether it’s with Congress, whether it’s with his own party, whether it’s the Republicans – the common denominator here is that he struggles conquering Washington.”

Todd said that he feels that the president’s greatest strength as a candidate – campaigning as a Washington outsider – became his greatest weakness in the end, since it turned out that Obama was not a good backroom politician.

“That’s what made him so appealing, that he was fresh. That he was not somebody who was sort of weathered down, beaten down by the horrendous politics that we experienced through two terms of [President Bill] Clinton and two terms of [President George W.] Bush. But it turned out that if you’re going to change Washington you have to know how it works. You can’t just hope it changes. You have to get your hands dirty and change it, and I think that’s been hard,” said Todd.

Todd acknowledges the president’s popularity problems – his recent approval ratings are floating in the low 40s – but he’s unsure whether it is the president’s fault, or the consequence of a growing hunger for instant political news that publicly scrutinizes every one of Obama’s actions online and on social media. This is the media monster that Todd – whose up-to-the-minute writing and editing for National Journal’s news brief for politics junkies, The Hotline, between 1992 and 2007 – played no small part in creating.

“Sometimes I wonder if the American presidency is overexposed. And I try to use this as a caveat in the conclusion of my book, which is: It could very well be that nobody could succeed in this media climate and political climate right now because of this horrendous way that social media works. Maybe it’s just impossible to conquer the news cycle and the media cycle the way it is right now, and he’s just the first victim,” said Todd. “We’re living at a time where people question everything and they have a lack of faith in everything. So that’s why I wonder: Could any president be popular under these circumstances where it feels like everything is a crisis and everything is on your desk more so than previous presidencies?

“Now that said, I think [Obama has] been certainly too reactive; I think they’re not proactive enough. But again, my caveat is maybe he’s too reactive because there’s an expectation that he has to react?”

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