Chuck Todd kicks off 'Meet the Press' gig with Obama. Can he boost ratings?
NBC’s 'Meet the Press' has seen its ratings drop in recent years. Can new moderator Chuck Todd turn things around, or will be it the same old Sunday TV talking heads?
NBC/William B. Plowman/AP
Sunday morning TV is a playground for political junkies.
ABC's "This Week" … CBS' "Face the Nation" … CNN's "State of the Union" … "Fox News Sunday" And the granddaddy of them all, NBC’s “Meet the Press,” which has been around since 1947.
The phrase “usual suspects” comes to mind in looking at a typical line-up of guests. This Sunday that includes US Senators Ted Cruz, Dianne Feinstein, and Marco Rubio; US Representatives Peter King, Mike Rogers, and Dutch Ruppersberger; Henry Kissinger and Mitt Romney.
And oh yes, President Obama, who’ll appear on “Meet the Press,” a journalistic coup for MTP’s new moderator Chuck Todd.
NBC recently fired moderator David Gregory. “Meet the Press” had fallen to third among the Sunday news shows; with the late Tim Russert as moderator for a record 16 years, it had held the top slot in ratings.
In a preview to his approach, Mr. Todd said last Sunday that he hopes to reduce people’s cynicism toward politics and politicians.
"The art of politics is a very important part of how the world governs itself, how America governs itself," he said. "If you have people who know how to practice the art of politics, the democracy gets stronger, the world gets safer, and that's when you realize politics is a good thing."
Reducing people’s cynicism toward politics – especially these days, and especially among younger Americans – is a tall order.
A recent poll of 18- to 29-year-olds – the millennial generation – by Harvard University’s Institute of Politics found that 58 percent agreed that “Elected officials don’t seem to have the same priorities I have.” An even higher number – 62 percent – agreed that “Elected officials seem to be motivated by selfish reasons.” Only 23 percent said they would “definitely” be voting in November’s midterm elections.
“It’s been clear for some time now that young people are growing more disillusioned and disconnected from Washington,” said Harvard Institute of Politics Polling Director John Della Volpe in a statement. “There’s an erosion of trust in the individuals and institutions that make government work – and now we see the lowest level of interest in any election we’ve measured since 2000.”
As voters (and those who don’t vote) have become more and more frustrated with Washington – government shutdowns, the partisan gridlock and lack of comity – the Sunday shows don’t seem to have adjusted to that frustration, says Jay Rosen, a media critic at New York University.
“We have the same people having the same arguments,” he told the Washington Post. “The political class is still invited on in the same way. There needs to be some recognition of that.”
In a sense, “Meet the Press” with Todd at the helm has nowhere to go but up.
“It’s difficult to nose-dive out of a basement,” writes Lloyd Grove, editor at large for The Daily Beast.
“While MTP still makes news and gets some 2.4 million viewers, the audience is much-reduced from the glory days of Russert, and the iconic Sunday public-affairs program is a battered franchise in need of repair.”
Within the news biz itself, there’s more than a little cynicism about the parade of talking heads regularly feature on MTP and the other Sunday morning TV fare. (Sen. John McCain has the most number of MTP appearances over the years: 69.)
“Let’s be honest: Why should any sane person care who hosts Meet the Press?” writes Eric Alterman in The Nation. “Should anything newsworthy occur on one of these shows, their transcripts become available within minutes of the broadcast, but this almost never happens. They remain influential with the rest of the mainstream media and therefore offer a clue as to how its denizens define their job, but they are not really ‘news’ shows at all; instead, they are branding exercises for network news divisions.”
Still, millions of Americans – before church or in some cases as church – rely on MTP and the others to keep them informed on current affairs, at least as seen mostly through the eyes and opinions of Washington insiders – politicians and pollsters, consultants and pundits.
To juice things up a bit, Chuck Todd will regularly be joined by panelists MSNBC “Morning Joe” host Joe Scarborough (a former Republican congressman) and NBC congressional correspondent Luke Russert (Tim Russert’s son).
Fresh voices, sort of.