5.14.2013

The political values of Chuck Todd

NBC News political director Chuck Todd, on Morning Joe, July 14, 2009, discussing the possibility of investigations into the Bush administration's use of torture:


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Todd: Look, let’s take all of these stories in one big thing:  really, the only important thing — the most important thing — the President has to focus on is getting the public’s trust on the economy, and pushing health care.  Cheney, the CIA, and in some respects Sotomayor are cable catnip – 
Brzezinski:  Yep. 
Todd:  It’s news catnip – but they’re sort of clouding the two most important issues the President’s got to get his arms around this week:  winning back trust of the middle on the economy and pushing health care through.
Todd famously referred to potential investigations into the Bush administration for establishing a global torture regime as nothing more than "cable catnip." (Read Glenn Greenwald's typically excellent piece about this and watch Jeremy Scahill confront Todd about it on Bill Maher's show.)

This was an astonishing thing to say for someone who is, as Greenwald noted, presented as a straight reporter, not a commentator with ideological opinions. Remember, the "considered and detailed discussions that occurred after 9/11 directly involving a president and his top advisers on the wisdom, propriety and legality of inflicting pain and torment on some detainees in our custody" were literally unprecedented in American history, according to an independent commission that recently spent two years studying the issue. Nothing like it had ever happened before in this country. Chuck Todd's government tortured people with the very same methods that the U.S. had previously called "war crimes" and that the U.S. had prosecuted Other Countries for carrying out in the past. People died in custody and we have quite a bit of photographic evidence testifying to the jarring brutality of Bush's sadists. This is what Todd casually dismissed as "cable catnip," i.e., nothing more than an annoying political distraction.

One naturally wonders, then, if a global torture regime represents "cable catnip," what Chuck Todd considers to be non-cable catnip. Perhaps Todd thinks that torture pales in comparison to, say, the attack on Iraq, causing, as it did, well over 100,000 dead civilians, and thinks any investigations into the U.S. government ought to focus on crimes that are even more depraved than torture. That would be a reasonable point of view.

Well, fortunately, we now know what sort of government offense Chuck Todd finds worthy of outrage.

NBC News political director Chuck Todd, again on Morning Joe, May 13, 2013, discussing the IRS targeting of conservative groups for special scrutiny, for which the agency has apologized:


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Todd: He [Obama] had an opportunity to say something here. They let Jay Carney's words speak - I think they were very weak. It didn't seem like they had any real sense of outrage. Look at the reaction of the entire Democratic party. The Republican party is jumping on this and standing up for members of their base constituency and, at the same time, beating up the IRS is always good politics. Why aren't there more Democrats jumping on this? This is outrageous no matter what political party you are, that an arm of the government, maybe it's a set of people in just one office, but, mind you, that one office was put in charge of dealing with these 501(c)4's and things like that. 
Scarborough: Chuck, why didn't the president say something on Friday? 
Todd: I don't know! I don't know. Maybe they were distracted by Benghazi. Maybe they made the decision they didn't want it to be about health care. I, ya know, I raised this question, I said "Where was the sense of outrage?" and the only push-back was like, "Well, ya know, Jay did, ya know, Jay Carney spoke about this at the press briefing. He was pretty strong." I have to say, it didn't sound very strong to me. I just... this is one of those... I don't know if the White House realizes... I think this story has more legs politically in 2014 than Benghazi. 
Let's set aside for the moment that Todd ended up being completely wrong about the Democrats' reaction to this. According to Erin McClam of NBC News, Todd's own news outlet, "both Republicans and Democrats in Congress are determined to investigate." One hopes that Todd's thirst for "outrage" is now sufficiently quenched.

Todd appeared visibly frustrated by the lack of "outrage" over this story, and we can safely assume that Todd vigorously supports conducting investigations into what happened. There is nothing wrong with this view, per se. The IRS should not be targeting groups based on their political opinions. It's an open-and-shut case and I haven't seen anyone defend what the IRS did. But what sort of person makes an explicit value judgment that the IRS scrutinizing some political groups more closely than others is is a more monstrous offense than the highest officials in the executive branch ignoring both domestic and international law and ordering a return to medieval times by torturing people?

It's a question of proportion. To basically mock the idea of investigating torture, and then foam at the mouth over a stupid scandal having to do with taxes - this reveals a very unusual code of political values. If Chuck Todd is going to present his personal political values in such a blatant way - torture is "cable catnip," but increased scrutiny on tax applications is "outrageous" - then he should drop the "objective reporter" shtick and declare himself an opinionated commentator, like Joe Scarborough or Rachel Maddow.