Being Jewish in today’s society, ever-changing political strategies and the current state of news coverage were among the topics “Meet the Press” host and NBC political director Chuck Todd discussed in front of a sellout crowd during his Mandel Jewish Community Center Cleveland Jewish Book Festival appearance.
An audience of 1,300 gathered Dec. 6 at Landerhaven in Mayfield Heights to listen to Todd and grab a signed copy of his book, “The Stranger: Barack Obama in the White House.”
Working in the news industry isn’t easy, said Todd. He’s been attacked via social media and through his inbox in the past, but in recent years, for the first time, these mentions have pointed out his faith.
“I’ve never been reminded how often I’m Jewish than on social media these days,” said Todd, who is a member of Temple Rodef Shalom in Falls Church, Va. “I’m very proud of it. I would say, ‘Yeah, what’s wrong with that?’ I have a feeling the folks identifying my faith are not as proud of it.”
Instead of fighting back the “bullies,” which Todd and many of his colleagues are tempted to do, he said he will keep doing his job with the goal of increasing the country’s trust in mainstream media.
“I don’t care if everybody hates me as long as I know I’m doing my job and I know I’m reporting the truth,” he said.
Based on his experience covering politics since 1992, and pointing to a recent poll, Todd feels the political system today is broken. The poll he referenced reported that a majority of Democrats feel Republicans are a threat to America’s way of life – and that a majority of Republicans feel the same way about Democrats.
“I was brought up where I thought the Soviet Union was a threat of our way of life,” he said. “A member of another political party of the United States of America is no threat to our way of life and shouldn’t be a threat to our way of life.”
Whether this split in the nation will be resolved or continue, Todd isn’t sure what the future of democracy looks like. For now, he doesn’t see either party displaying the initiative to compromise. Instead, he’s noticed more “micro-targeting,” a strategy to identify the interests of individuals and influence their vote, which he believes only furthers the divide.
“Are you telling me, as a Democrat, you only want to talk to people you know agree with you? That’s what micro-targeting has done to our elections, where we now have campaigns that only search for voters that they know already agree with them, to try to convince them to vote,” he said. “If you get elected by the mindset that the only people that got you into office are people that already agree with you, then what’s your incentive to compromise?”
For those fed up with the current state of politics, Todd said stop yelling at the television and instead grab a clipboard and get enough petitions to run for local government.
“Do it local, because if you’re going to wait on Washington to fix the problems, they’re never going to send a check to fix that problem,” he said.
Following his speech, Todd sat down for a Q&A session with Kevin S. Adelstein, publisher and CEO of the Cleveland Jewish News and president of the Cleveland Jewish Publication Company.
During the session, Adelstein asked Todd about Matt Lauer, the former host of NBC’s “The Today Show” who was recently fired by the network amid sexual misconduct allegations.
“Personally, I’m pretty angry,” Todd said. “They call it a ‘dark side’ for a reason. People keep this stuff in the dark. You hear rumors of (Lauer) being a womanizer, but I’m sorry, I don’t want to believe people I work with are capable of what he’s accused of. I didn’t believe it until you see it.”
On a lighter note, Todd explained what can make his favorite interview.
“When the interviewee accepts the premise and is comfortable defending their point,” he said.
And his worst interview.
“My Kellyanne Conway interview was a lousy interview, the ‘alternative facts’ thing,” he said. “It was not fulfilling at all.”
Whom hasn’t he interviewed and would like to? “Bill Clinton.”
Toward the end of the program, Todd was asked to make a prediction of who he sees running in the 2020 presidential elections.
“I think the most fascinating part of 2020 is the primary challenge of (President) Donald Trump,” he said. “He will have a serious primary challenge. Does it come from Mitt Romney? John Kasich? I don’t know. … We’re going to elect ‘new,’ not ‘repackaged’ is my point. You’re going to look for a fresh face.”
Will Trump be re-elected in 2020?
“Why would I answer that question?” Todd quipped.