NBC’s Chuck Todd gave a lengthy interview to the Verge in which he was asked about media bias. Specifically, the discussion started with whether or not Todd would allow Sen. Ted Cruz to appear on Meet the Press. Todd said he wasn’t sure he would because Cruz isn’t credible and may just be there to gaslight viewers. That led to a broader points about objectivity and fairness. According to Todd, the GOP has repeated claims of media bias to the point where even some liberals believe it.
I think objectivity and fairness are not the same thing in some ways. You can’t define objectivity as sort of being equal, that we know. You can’t balance the truth, that we know. So you have to be fair and have an open mind. Where we did get lost in this, and this sort of happened to mainstream media in particular, is that we did let Republican critics get in our heads, right?
The Republicans have been running on, “There’s a liberal bias in the media.” And talk about, if you say something long enough, there are liberals who say there’s a liberal bias in the media when you see polling now.
Todd goes on to say that liberal media bias doesn’t exist even as he admits that Hollywood, publishing, the media and big tech all share a common culture that excludes much of America.
Frankly, there’s four cultural centers in America, right? For entertainment, it’s LA. For tech, it’s essentially San Francisco. For finance and media, it’s New York. And then DC, for politics. All four of them, though, have a common cultural identity, when it comes to perhaps religion, when it comes to some sort of cultural norms. And so a guy like Ailes exploited that really well, over a long period of time, so that they could say, “Hey, that proves there’s a liberal bias,” when really, this was just more of an urban/rural divide, not a left/right divide.
But now the Republicans have subsumed all of this and it’s turned into this. We should have fought back better in the mainstream media. We shouldn’t [have] accepted the premise that there was liberal bias. We should have defended. I hear the attacks on fact checkers where they “fact-check Republicans six times more than they fact-check Democrats.” Yeah. Perhaps the Republicans are being factually incorrect more often than the Democrats.
We ended up in this both-sides trope. We bought into the idea that, oh my God, we’re perceived as having a liberal bias. And I think for particularly the first decade of the century, I’d say mainstream media overcorrected. And we bought into the Fox motto of “balance.” And it’s like, Jesus, there’s no balance, they need the truth. There’s fairness, that’s different than balance. And so in that sense, this is why we’re in this defensive posture today.
Chuck Todd, the political director of NBC News, is just making this up as he goes along. First he says there’s no such thing as liberal bias, then he admits there is a cultural bias that just happens to track with the divide between the coastal media elite and the people in flyover country. But according to Todd that urban/rural divide isn’t political.
Except of course that the urban/rural divide definitely is political. You can just look at the numbers from the last election which show it. This graph comes from a longer analysis by the site City Monitor. It shows a partisan divide that has grown substantially over time.
So the idea Chuck Todd is presenting, i.e. that the urban/rural divide isn’t really partisan doesn’t hold up to much scrutiny. More to the point, there’s plenty of evidence that major media institutions have a clear partisan bent because they are made up of people from these coastal culture centers. Just to make an obvious point that I’m sure Chuck Todd is familiar with, back in 2004 the NY Times own public editor admitted the paper leaned heavily to the left on many issues:
These are the social issues: gay rights, gun control, abortion and environmental regulation, among others. And if you think The Times plays it down the middle on any of them, you’ve been reading the paper with your eyes closed.
But if you’re examining the paper’s coverage of these subjects from a perspective that is neither urban nor Northeastern nor culturally seen-it-all; if you are among the groups The Times treats as strange objects to be examined on a laboratory slide (devout Catholics, gun owners, Orthodox Jews, Texans); if your value system wouldn’t wear well on a composite New York Times journalist, then a walk through this paper can make you feel you’re traveling in a strange and forbidding world.
Start with the editorial page, so thoroughly saturated in liberal theology that when it occasionally strays from that point of view the shocked yelps from the left overwhelm even the ceaseless rumble of disapproval from the right.
I guess you could argue that the Times’ public editor was just another Democrat who’d fallen for the right’s claims about media bias but I don’t think you can ignore the fact that on major issues that matter to the right, the Times, the Post, CNN, MSNBC, etc. all have a pretty clear cultural outlook. On some issues, particularly gay rights, that outlook has essentially won the argument. Majorities of Republicans now support gay marriage. But on other issues: abortion, gun control, religion, free speech, environmental regulations and recently Critical Race Theory, the right rarely gets unbiased coverage from the media. Speaking of CRT, Todd even explains why Meet the Press is ignoring the issue:
The thing that you have to be leery of, and I have to say this with my own producers all the time, just because something is hot in the cable news universe, doesn’t mean it’s a relevant topic that we ought to spend a lot of time on. Hence, critical race theory.
Critical race theory, is it a real issue or is it a manufactured issue on the right? Well, eventually the answer to both questions may be yes, but I’m not sure Meet the Press should be giving it extra oxygen because I do think it means something when we delve in on an issue. And I think that there are going to be more and more of those issues that create these dilemmas for those of us that are not in the partisan space. Because if you want to get a lot of likes or even attention on social media, have a hot take on critical race theory right now, left or right.
Obviously, if you believe this is a real issue and a significant one as many on the right claim then it’s worth covering on your news show. On the other hand, if you believe it’s a manufactured issue, then it makes sense to ignore it. It just so happens that Chuck Todd agrees with the left-wing partisans (Joy Reid comes to mind) who are arguing the latter point. But hey, don’t imagine for a moment that there’s bias in the media. It’s just a complete coincidence that Chuck Todd aligns himself and his show with the left on this issue highly contentions issue. In fact, his view of CRT is the same as his view of liberal media bias, i.e. neither one is a real issue worthy of his time or attention. Nothing to see here folks, move along.
All of this connects back to the big lie about who is responsible for the cultural divide in America. The truth is that both sides are partly responsible but if you look at the data it’s pretty clear that the left has moved farther and faster to the left than the right has to the right. And the media has been riding the left’s coattails precisely because the are part of the same elite culture that drives most of these issues. The fact that NBC’s political director doesn’t get it explains a lot about NBC News.
Update: Chuck Todd has gone down this road before. I wrote about it back in 2018.