Full Q&A: NBC journalists Chuck Todd, Andrea Mitchell and Hallie Jackson on Recode Decode
They talk about social media’s impact on democracy, how the media has changed under President Trump and who’s running in 2020.
The latest episode of Recode Decode with Kara Swisher is a live interview recorded last night in Washington, D.C.: Kara spoke to NBC/MSNBC* political journalists Chuck Todd, Andrea Mitchell and Hallie Jackson about everything from the 2020 presidential race to how Facebook has changed society.
“Facebook has replaced the local newspaper,” Todd said. “I think the biggest problem of the media’s relationship with Americans is the loss of the newspaper on the doorstep. The newspaper on the doorstep was a collective thing in every community. Everybody got the newspaper. Everybody got the newspaper and so there was this collective place that you got your news, there was this collective place that you got your facts.”
The trio also discussed the challenges they’ve faced as journalists trying to fairly cover the chaotic Trump administration and its Twitter-obsessed leader. Jackson referred to a popular claim by some of President Trump’s critics, the “shiny object” theory, that the media should not cover his provocative tweets because he often posts them in the middle of another major news story’s development.
“Do you stay on story A?” Jackson asked. “‘That’s a big and important story, don’t get distracted by story B.’ Story B can also be a big and important story, right? We can have a lot of really big and important stories all at once that are worthy of coverage and should be covered. And I don’t know that every tweet that President Trump, for example, sends out is like a methodically thought through thing, saying … ‘let me distract from this story that I’m seeing on cable.’ I don’t think that that’s true all the time.”
* NBCUniversal is an investor in Recode’s parent company, Vox Media.
Below, we’ve shared a lightly edited full transcript of Kara’s conversation with Chuck, Andrea and Hallie.
Kara Swisher: I’m so glad to be here in the Studio Theater. I actually, besides working for the City Paper, which I got fired from by Jack Shafer. Thank you, Jack. You helped my career immensely. You remember him, he’s still around.
I worked for John McLaughlin too, the TV show, so I’ve worked in television. I am so glad he’s dead, as I’ve always said. But, I worked, I wrote for that show, “The McLaughlin Group,” which I think really ruined it. It created a modern cable. It was the beginning of hateful speech online and on television. So, I learned at the foot of the master.
But I’m glad to back in Washington. I worked for the Washington Post. I actually delivered mail for the Washington Post and later people I delivered mail for worked for me, which was kind of interesting. But, I love Washington D.C. I love coming here. I become 100 percent sexier here. So, that’s always good.
And I do, I love Washington. I went to Georgetown University. I went to the Foreign Service School. I wanted to become a spy. I still might be a spy. It would be the longest con in history. But, I’m really excited to talk to my friends from NBC news. I also do, besides working at Recode and Vox, I write sometimes for a newspaper, a fake newspaper called the New York Times. But I also, one of my favorite things- Boo, don’t boo the New York Times. Not for me.
I have a great relationship with — and so does Vox — with NBC News and one of the things we do, we do these substantive shows about the future of the future, essentially. But one of the things, I get the pleasure of spending a lot of time with the NBC news staff and they are an amazing group of people.
Oh, oh, what was that? Someone’s watching me. That was my voice. That was Marc Benioff, who’s like 400 feet taller than me. We have some really good shows coming up. We have one I’m going to do one with Kim Kardashian and her mom, we’re going to do one hopefully, with Mary Barra. We’ve got a whole bunch coming up that we’re going to do to try to sort of give some substance to a lot of things.
So, substantive discussions are what we’re looking for, not to NBC news, no, NBC news is very substantive.
So, I want to talk, this substantive discussion on this podcast. I usually interview techies like Mark Zuckerberg, which is always a mistake when he gets onstage with me. Or Elon Musk or various people, Sheryl Sandberg, who’s not having the best week. We’re going to talk about that and more, but these are three people that I have admired forever. And I’ve had Chuck on the podcast. Andrea Mitchell, I was just telling her, is the hardest-working journalist that I know of and Hallie Jackson, who also has a great show on MSNBC and everything else. Come on out, you three, and we’re going to have a great discussion.
Chuck Todd: It looks like we’re “Inside the Actors Studio.”
We are. So, Chuck, how did you consider the part …? No, So, I want to get started right away. Obviously there’s — wait, I actually have a treat for everybody. Where is it? Right here. Okay. Vox, in an attempt to get me to quit, bought me a Facebook Portal the other day. As you see, it’s not opened. It remains unopened. I still think it’s dangerous.
Chuck Todd: So, I got angry at Fox the other night.
Yeah, oh really?
Chuck Todd: Fox, Fox, I’m watching Fox Thursday night football and they did this ridiculous three-minute infomercial on Portal with Howie Long and Terry Bradshaw and they thought it was funny.
Chuck Todd: And I’m sitting here going, “Why in hell would I ever buy this product?”
All right. How funny, because I was going to give it to you.
Chuck Todd: Did I say that out loud? Sorry, Facebook. I guess I ain’t getting any freebies from you.
Okay, but I was actually going to give it to you, Chuck. But, that’s okay.
Chuck Todd: Hallie was telling me how much you wanted …
So, the person that asks the worst question tonight is going to get this. So, anyway, I wanted to bring it out because you can watch NBC news on there, you can do a lot of things on this. And I wanted to first talk about tech because I do a tech, I write a lot about tech, but we want to get to the Administration, about the elections and all kinds of things. And the impact of cable news and news on all of this because I think right now, social media’s getting sort of its fair share of criticism and deserved.
So, let’s start with that and then I want to talk about what cable does, hat news reporters do and where the press is. What are your thoughts, each of you on what’s happened with Facebook, because it’s become an integral part of your coverage now. Same thing with Twitter, with Trump. Today, he made the Dow drop hundreds of points because he called himself “tariff man” on Twitter, if you can believe. No, I’m serious. It dropped because he called himself “tariff man.”
So, why don’t each of you sort of talk about what you think about the impact that it’s been on our country and where you think we are right now. Chuck, do you want to start?
Chuck Todd: Well, social media has somehow made cable media seem in-depth. So, thank you, social media.
It’s a low bar, Chuck. But, go ahead.
Chuck Todd: Yeah, I’m aware of that. Look, it is, I think we still haven’t fully gone through it. I think the part we haven’t fully grasped is how Facebook has replaced the local newspaper. And that’s the part of this that I think is sort of, what I mean by this is what? I think the biggest problem of the media’s relationship with Americans is the loss of the newspaper on the doorstep.
The newspaper on the doorstep was a collective thing in every community. Everybody got the newspaper. Everybody got the newspaper and so there was this collective place that you got your news, there was this collective place that you got your facts. And local media in many ways gave us in national media the credibility. Because your local paper, you figure, those people and you know, you just sort of connected it all.
And now that Facebook has replaced the local newspaper, I think that’s the part of this we still, you talk about the importance of Facebook in our coverage, in some ways, we still haven’t figured out how to incorporate Facebook in our coverage, in that we still haven’t fully grasped how influential Facebook is on the day-to-day with voters over the age of 50. And that’s the demographic we’re talking about here.
Chuck Todd: And I also believe that one of the things that many of our colleagues don’t realize is that nobody under the age of 50 is on Facebook anymore.
Right, right, right.
Hallie Jackson: I was talking to Chuck backstage, I haven’t used Facebook in probably three years, personally. Professionally, we have somebody that keeps the page alive for the links and all that but I think that’s …
Chuck Todd: No, I mean but look-
But you do use what?
Hallie Jackson: So, I do use Instagram.
Which is owned by Facebook.
Chuck Todd: You really stuck it to Facebook.
Hallie Jackson: It’s less about the corporate overlord piece of it and more about the way that people use Facebook and interact on Facebook. Because what I hear from my friends and my peers is that it just devolved into this hellhole, cesspool of hate and division.
Hallie Jackson: Right? And anybody who’s on Facebook probably sees that. Who has not had or seen a, I got a screen grab of a Facebook fight by best friend was in, like two days ago. And that happens every week, right? And so, I’ve removed myself from that pool a little bit, to Chuck’s point, and Kara to your question, listen, I don’t think we’ve grasped the, from a political reporting perspective, what exactly happened with Facebook two years ago, much less in the midterms, much less what’s going to happen in less than two years from now in 2020.
And I think that part of it, Kara is what we see when we look, I cover politics not tech. But, tech reporters are doing this yeoman’s work of uncovering what did these guys know and when did they know it and more importantly, where’s the transparency and how do they fix it? And I’m not sure that the companies have a handle on it, which sure as heck means that we, as media reporters and people who are in the media are still, I think, grappling with that too.
Andrea Mitchell: And I think when I was interviewing recently, Kathleen Hall Jamieson from-
Andrea Mitchell: The Annenberg School about her new book, “Cyberwars,” and she has a really interesting forensic study of the impact of social media and of the Russian intrusion. And she can track it to prove pretty conclusively and you can’t disaggregate what caused the election to go one way or the other really, but there’s a lot of data that she has accumulated in a really responsible way to look at the last, I would say the time after the Wikileaks dump, after Access Hollywood, then the debate a couple days later that was exactly what happened between the second and third debate.
How the Russians influenced the questions that were asked by strong, credible moderators, but who were influenced by the dialogue that they were picking up from social media without even realizing it. And how that may well have influenced the outcome.
Did you all understand it, covering the last election? Think about the last election because about right after the election, I actually called Mark and Sheryl and I said, “This is serious. Something has happened here. I don’t know what it is, but you need to take it seriously.” And they were like, “Well, it wasn’t as impactful.” You know, they had that line. Mark first said it was “crazy” and then they said, okay, it’s five percent. Okay, it’s 5000 and then it went on and on and on.
Chuck Todd: Eventually, he’s going to say Vladimir Putin did found Facebook. Right, we’re going to get all the way to there.
Did you all grok it at the time when you were covering, let’s go to the last election. How did you look at it? What are the mistakes that you all made that you didn’t see that this was happening?
Andrea Mitchell: Well, in fact, I did not. And it was afterwards, it was two weeks after the election when I and Dan Balz from the Washington Post were doing the wrap-up session at Harvard. The traditional post-election autopsy. And we had both teams facing off against each other. And at one point, the Trump people, they were really triumphant and not gracious at all-
Well, I call them sore winners. But, go ahead.
Andrea Mitchell: Unlike past elections where I’ve been through this process, where both sides try to heal some wounds, there was none of that and there was a, the Clinton people were still in shock and breaking into tears at one point. And the Trump people were hardly gracious. At one point, Brad Parscale said-
This is the Trump campaign, the Trump digital person.
Andrea Mitchell: The digital person.
Chuck Todd: Who will be the campaign manager for Trump 2020, when he is…
Andrea Mitchell: Manager and was with Cambridge Analytics and all of that and worked so closely with Jared. At one point, Mandy Grunwald, who had done the media for Hillary because they were arguing over who had more store fronts and the Trump people said, “We didn’t need store fronts, we had social media. We didn’t need volunteers. You had the wrong metrics.”
And at one point towards the end of this really intense three-hour emotional session, Mandy Grunwald who did the traditional media for Hillary Clinton and has for decades said, “You really gaslighted her, didn’t you?” And Brad Parscale said, “Yes, and you never saw it coming.” And grinned, rather than being chagrined or-
Chuck Todd: So what do you-
Andrea Mitchell: And it was quite a moment. There was this whole subterranean social media campaign that we never saw.
Chuck Todd: But, Kara, to answer your question … I knew the gaslighting was out there. I knew it was everyday. But I think there was part of me in my head assumed people were discerning it out, knew the BS from the non-BS.
Chuck Todd: So, I think what my sort of shock to the system was just sort of how gullible a big chunk of the country was to this and gullible because maybe they want to be gullible. And also look, you can’t separate that the Clintons weren’t very popular. So, people wanted to believe the worst about them and they own some of that on themselves, right? Why do people want to think the worst about them, you got to ask, when people want to think the worst about you, you gotta ask yourself why is that? You need to look in the mirror.
So, I don’t, I do think that, I wouldn’t sit here and say, “Oh, it’s all Facebook’s problem.” But that’s the thing. It was the want. It was like people wanted to believe the worst about all of us, us in the press.
Look, the most disconcerting thing was when I saw my wife’s email show up. It was my wife’s email that showed up in Wikileaks, of all the things. A personal email that she had sent to somebody that she’s personal friends with and it shows up and it was a small, little dinner at our house and it becomes this giant fundraiser apparently that I threw at my house for Hillary Clinton. Which wasn’t, none of it, it wasn’t even remotely true. There wasn’t even a campaign at the time. It was just literally a couple of couples that showed up at the house.
But that’s when I was like, “Oh, my God. This is …”
You didn’t recognize the strength, the strength-
Chuck Todd: Yes. It was so out of the tube, you realize. Boy, it’s hard to fight, you can’t just fight this one back response at a time-
Not even knowing about it-
Andrea Mitchell: Let me just say that I was two or three weeks ago out at Facebook and at Stanford for a trilateral commission meeting, okay. So, the-
Chuck Todd: Wait a minute, trilateral commission?!
Andrea Mitchell: I know, I’m saying that, I’m putting that out there because-
Chuck Todd: Of course she’s at the trilateral commission, Andrea…
Andrea Mitchell: It was an academic-
So, George Soros was running it, but go ahead-
Andrea Mitchell: Right and this has been-
Chuck Todd: I thought the Queen of England ran the Trilateral Commission.
Andrea Mitchell: Yes, and the Rockefellers. Aside from Soros. The fact is, there were a lot of people there. We then went to Stanford. And Nick Kristof has written about this in the New York Times, interviewing people separately, so I’m not violating any rules.
Nate Persily, from Stanford, Stanford Law, said that one of the problems that you all, we all have is that the fact-checking is not catching up with the tweets, with the false statements. So, I think I’m being virtuous by insisting on my show, on MSNBC that we go on and we say, “President Trump said this today about China, about tariffs, whatever, however, it’s not true. Or about the wall or about the Saudi arms deals. “We’ve gotten $450 billion?” Well no, in fact, it’s been about $15 billion.
So, we do all this fact checking and I always use it in the same sentence and he said, “The reality of their studies at Stanford Law are that the fact checking never catches up with the headline.” So, we are only amplifying the false statements and the reality never catches up, so how do we deal with that and I’m still trying to come to grips with that.
So how do you like that, because there was a tweet today about this is the most exasperated story AP has had, because they corrected seven misstatements or lies, essentially lies. And it took forever for you all to call it lies, which was fascinating in a lot of ways.
Hallie, when you think about covering that, like you started off, there was a traditional way of covering politics where there was a lot of insiders and “sources said,” but it was usually like James Carville or something like that. It was always James Carville. But there was a way of doing it. How do you look at it now?
Andrea Mitchell: Only if it was colorful.
Hallie Jackson: So, there’s a lot to it, right? Because I didn’t come into this from like a perspective of having done years and years as an embed in a campaign, I kind of got dropped into a hundred Republicans running for president in the summer of 2015, turns into now I cover the White House full-time, right?
So, I don’t, I’m not steeped in that sort of traditional background, but one of the things that’s been striking, Andrea, you talk about the fact checks, you talk about the headlines, there’s a way to avoid those problems. There’s a way to do a headline that doesn’t just amplify an incorrect statement, right? Some organizations and I think NBC among them has done a really good job on that. I think there are others who can try to catch up and each of us personally can try to catch up in that, right? Of trying to incorporate a fact-check into whatever you’re talking about that Donald Trump just said.
Here’s the flip-side though, from my experience on the ground, right? Talking to people, traveling for example this last midterm swings. The fact-checks in some instances just don’t matter. Because people will look at you and you’ll go, “Yeah, but you know what he means, right?”
Chuck Todd: That’s it. They don’t care if the details are wrong, do they?
Hallie Jackson: No. Because they feel like they understand.
Chuck Todd: That’s, but the sentiment is there. That’s all they care about.
Hallie Jackson: Right.
Talk about because you all get dragged into it too and you all are also participants. You’re all very heavy tweeters, for example. All of you, which is interesting.
Hallie Jackson: I’ve actually stepped back a lot from Twitter recently. I haven’t made like a big, grand declaration about it because I’m doing it and still on it, but I think that, I’ve found in a weird way, Kara, that my mental health is just better. And I think Twitter can be really useful for a lot of reasons. It’s also a place that sometimes feels really sucky.
Chuck Todd: Can I give Twitter some credit, though? They are trying with a few power users, because I’ve taken a step back myself. And they reached out. They said, what can we do to make it better?
Hallie Jackson: Right.
Hallie Jackson: Chuck’s a heavy hitter. Nobody reaches out to me!
Chuck Todd: What do you hate most about it? No, no, no. And they did clean up some things. They gave me some tips on how to clean up some things-
What is a heavy hitter? How many followers do you have? Just curious?
Chuck Todd: Two million.
Oh, you’re close to me. Okay, good.
Chuck Todd: I don’t know if that’s a lot anymore.
No, it’s a lot.
Chuck Todd: No, I don’t mean that. My point was, I give them, Twitter knows it has a problem, even if they haven’t fully figured out how to do it or even fully fess up to how bad the problem is. Facebook doesn’t even admit fully that they have a problem.
So, how do you all-
Chuck Todd: So, I will say that. To me, that’s the biggest difference between the two.
How do you all think about coverage now? How do you look at coverage? You’ve been doing a stand-up video thing forever, all of you. How do you think of your job? And then I want to get into how Trump uses Twitter because just again, I think he’s literally the best Twitter troll in history, at this point. He really is. I think you have to give him credit for being just awful an just fantastic at being awful on Twitter. And it works for him. I think it creates a complete instant relationship with someone, with his voters.
Chuck Todd: It’s his speak.
It’s his speak.
Chuck Todd: He loves the New York Post. He loves the 200 word story, not the 10,000 word story.
Chuck Todd: And Twitter’s even better.
Right, right, exactly. Try to talk in the microphone.
Chuck Todd: Sorry, I’m just-
You’re a TV person.
Chuck Todd: I’m trying to make it really hard for her to put something on the podcast. No, I’m just kidding. Our PR person is going, “That’s brilliant.” Say the harshest things-
We catch it all. We’ve got Portal.
Chuck Todd: Yeah, yeah.
I’ve got Portal working. It works through the box.
Chuck Todd: We’re all going to be stuck with Portals. Neverending Portal.
I’m glad you enjoyed your lunch today. Portal told me about it.
Chuck Todd: I do think that Twitter was built for Trump’s brain in ways beyond-
I want to get to that, but how do you all, what’s your relationship? Andrea, as a reporter, not as a person.
Andrea Mitchell: I enjoy it as a reporter because it’s a wire service, it’s a tip sheet, it’s interesting stuff that other people are reporting that I can check out. We don’t just retweet anything that we don’t know to be true. I try not to be snarky. Try to control myself so that the PR people at NBC don’t get on my back. But I let people know-
I have to say you’re increasingly snarky, just so you know. I follow you. Just slowly.
Andrea Mitchell: That’s a subjective.
It’s you and Maggie Haberman suddenly, you’re like …
Andrea Mitchell: Do you know we were born on the same day?
Were you? Interesting.
Andrea Mitchell: We’ve got the same birthday, so it’s all astrological with us.
Hallie Jackson: This is terrifying, Kara. What are you going to say next?
I’m not sure.
Andrea Mitchell: It’s a great way, I think to communicate with the people who follow my show or my viewers to let people know. Because we’re in th middle of the day, we have to let people know, because they’re all busy. We’re not one of the shows because we have so much breaking news in our, first of all, the president gets up and has his intel briefing at 11:30, compared to many of predecessors, who would do it like 6 or 7 in the morning. So, he’s up and about at noon, he’s ready to go, he’s having a Cabinet meeting. He might have a photo opportunity. He might start doing a gaggle with Hallie. Well, that interrupts everything that I have programmed. So, Chuck tonight had great guests today. I had great guests on my show. We’re very involved in a lot of breaking news and a lot of stuff on Khashoggi and-
Andrea Mitchell: China and obviously-
Andrea Mitchell: You know, what’s happening with George Herbert Walker Bush and we all cover it and that’s another big part of what’s going on this week. But, my show is the most frequently interrupted, and Hallie’s to a lesser extent, because he’s still upstairs tweeting, isn’t he, at 10 am in the morning-
Hallie Jackson: Yeah. But that’s one of —
So, it’s changed the way you cover news.
Andrea Mitchell: Twitter does help let people know, “Hey, I’ve got something big coming up.” Or I’ve got a really big interview.
But has it changed, have you gotten twitchy in the way you cover things? Do you feel twitchy? I feel cable news is real twitchy.
Andrea Mitchell: I don’t stop looking at that screen when I should and that’s a problem. But also for emails because we’re all reacting to so many internal notes that are telling Hallie and me and others who are covering the day-to-day stuff, “Hey, such and such has just broken, check it out.” Constantly.
Chuck Todd: Our internal emails are-
Andrea Mitchell: Constant-
Chuck Todd: Are just as busy as a Twitter feed would be.
Andrea Mitchell: It’s stuff that’s not confirmed yet.
Chuck Todd: And we also have our own Twitter feed that we’re following on the outside and then we have all the information that we’re sharing, so we are constantly, you say what’s changed? It feels like we’re constantly in receive mode.
And are you on Slack also?
Chuck Todd: The problem — I don’t, I refuse to be on Slack because I don’t need another goddamned thing to start checking.
Chuck Todd: But I wish I were and a few of our internal Slack channels, I worry if I got in them, I’d never get out.
Hallie Jackson: Like the college football one, perhaps.
Chuck Todd: No, well there’s one on- No, it’s our professional ones. That stuff I would-
Andrea Mitchell: Basketball.
Chuck Todd: I keep my gambling to a-
Hallie, It’s the “Game of Thrones” fantasy Slack, but go ahead.
Hallie Jackson: Probably. Listen, I do think to your question, Kara and to Andrea’s discussion about getting twitchy, right? I think there is sometimes this theory that the shiny object distraction. And you’ll hear that sometimes. When there’s this big story happening over here and the president Tweets about another big story, right? There’s story A and he Tweets about story B.
And there’s a, I think divergence of thought. Do you stay on story A? That’s a big and important story, don’t get distracted by story B. Story B can also be a big and important story, right? We can have a lot of really big and important stories all at once that are worthy of coverage and should be covered. And I don’t know that every tweet that President Trump for example, sends out is like a methodically thought through thing, saying let me distract — let me finish my sentence. Saying, “let me distract from this story that I’m seeing on cable.” I don’t thank that that’s true all the time.
I think that he actually does it by nature. I think he is exactly doing that to you all. I think it creates a constant distraction.
Chuck Todd: But for him, it’s boredom.
Chuck Todd: To get rid of boredom. He, himself said, Why didn’t he want to campaign in the economy? “That’s boring.”
Chuck Todd: Some of it is boring.
Hallie Jackson: So, he tweets things that he finds interesting in the moment and I do think like we talk the role of Twitter, I think it’s all of those things that Andrea talked about. It’s a wire service, it’s a place to go to get information and read interesting stories. It’s also a bubble and people have to remember that. That’s not a reflection of actual America. It’s just not.
But, the value in Twitter is that Donald Trump loves it and uses it and like no other president, it’s a window into his thinking.
Chuck Todd: Can I just tell you, this is a reality check that I try to remind ourselves internally every once in a while. We do, we ask regularly in the NBC, Wall Street Journal poll about once a quarter if you use social media, what is your preferred site or whatever it is. Okay, Twitter is less than 10%. Twitter is less than 10%. It’s literally less than one in ten people. It is opinion elite, okay. Either the consumers of opinion elite or the deliverers of the opinion elite, but in some ways, it’s self-selective.
Andrea Mitchell: But we’re circulating it-
Chuck Todd: We are circulating in a way … But Facebook is for the masses. Instagram is for the masses. One of things that we’re doing, we probably should be off of Twitter less for sentiment. Twitter for me is an information portal and that’s it. And we need to be reminding ourselves of that because of how actually small the circle is of Twitter users.
Andrea Mitchell: I recently had very recently had a morning rundown meeting with my team, most of whom are in New York, some of are here. And we’re doing a rundown meeting and one of our segment producers said, “and the president’s tweets today…” and I said, let’s just take a break. Take a deep breath. Unless it’s really important, don’t even tell me about it. I don’t want to write it into my first block. Let’s script around that and think about this, this and this which is really important today. And so, everybody backed off and sometimes I have to realize the effect of the anchor saying, “Let’s not do that.”
And so, I was busy, I was getting ready to get on the air and I didn’t notice something that he had done that actually was provocative to the point that it needed to be reported.
Which one was that? I’m sorry, it happens every hour.
Andrea Mitchell: Frankly, it was the one with Rod Rosenstein behind the bars.
Andrea Mitchell: Because I had heard it, but I didn’t visualize it because I was racing around and driving to the Hill and so then I said, “Hey, wait a second, when did that break?” “Well, right before you told us you didn’t want to hear about his tweets.”
So what does that, I want to get off this and then I want to talk a little bit the politics and how it impacts politics, technology, what should happen in the next … But how does it impact your news coverage? How do you, have you rethought what you should do going forward?
Andrea Mitchell: Absolutely.
So, talk to me, each of you, Hallie, why don’t you start. What should you do going forward that you aren’t doing because it is what it is. We are in the oxygen, we are in the environment we are in. How do you look at moving forward?
Hallie Jackson: As it relates to Twitter, as it relates to the president? Or just generally?
As it relates to all your coverage. Because what I’m saying, twitchy, it creates a non-thoughtful ability to do your job.
Hallie Jackson: Yeah. So, let me answer that question by giving an example of something that we do on our show, a segment that we call Swamp Watch, which started because the president, when I was on the campaign trail, talked a lot about “draining the swamp.” And there have been, as you guys might know, some ethics scandals from members of his cabinet. And those often fly under the radar. They’re not particularly super-sexy in the way that I think some things like a Russia story, you know. They’re important stories that sometimes are a little bit boring, but that are still important. So, we have a segment that we bring up as often as we can called, Swamp Watch, where we talk about the latest inspector general’s report on the interior department and Ryan Zinke. Your eyes should not be glazing over, because it’s actually an important thing to talk about, as it relates to him.
There’s different pieces like that that we try to do to make sure that, on cable, right? Which is a fast and furious, for all of us, seven hours, right? Straight through dayside. We’re trying to get some of those stories that do fly under the radar sometimes. I do think it’s worth noting as we talk about, the three of us all have shows at MSNBC, and all of us regularly report for NBC News programs, including The Today Show, Nightly News, and obviously … I don’t know if you know that Chuck does Meet the Press.
I think we are examples of folks who are trying to bridge that gap between cable, which is its own environment, and then the network side, which is a very different environment. Both important and both with viewers that want smart, thoughtful, on-point analysis, just in different formats.
Andrea Mitchell: One of the things that I think we have to do less of, and that we should not have done in 2016, and I’ve been very vocal about this, is carry his rallies live. You know, we have the ability to turn something if he makes news, but we should not just have these stream of consciousness rallies that take up all the oxygen, and that squeeze out any other political coverage.
Hallie Jackson: Not even Fox is doing that anymore.
Andrea Mitchell: That’s one things that’s different, and that we should take a deep breath and not jump every time he opens his mouth, or hits the Twitter machine. I think we have to be editors and curators, even in live broadcasting. That’s what I’ve been trying to do.
I think that has been abrogated by the press. I always say … You know, they were covering Peter Thiel recently, and I did a live blog where I said what he was actually saying when he was speaking, and everyone else, I thought, was typing, just typing what he was saying and repeating.
Chuck Todd: Exactly. I would say the biggest philosophical change I’ve had in my own approach to this is just, say what you see. Don’t try to offer nuance based on previous experience, which is what I did for 25 years, in some ways. You know, historical perspective mattered. How these things happened in the past mattered. They don’t now. They should. We can have that debate. Just say what you see in the moment. The president is tweeting like crazy about the Mueller probe. Don’t say how he’s tweeting about it.
He did a series of six tweets. He’s obviously nervous about it today. You can report on his tweets without actually reporting the misstatements and repeating the misstatements. I think it is our job to … Look, I joke that every day in our staff meeting, whether it’s our daily staff meeting or our weekly staff meeting, we have a debate. Are we overreacting or underreacting to Trump today?
Particularly in the Mueller probe and some of the things, I think we can simultaneously both over- and underreact. We overreact to the wrong part of the Mueller probe, and then we underreact to some of the obstruction in plain sight aspects of things.
Andrea Mitchell: I also think that we have to just be smarter about a lot of stuff. The China trade war, and you saw the markets today, is a case in point, and Hallie was all over this, because she was the pooler on Air Force One when he was bragging about his achievements. What we have to do is look at Beijing’s reaction, look at the fact that he appointed Bob Lighthizer, the most strident trade warrior, pro-tariff guy, of the three people in his universe even tougher than Navarro and certainly tougher than Mnuchin, who ought to be doing this, arguably.
And see what the there there is. Fentanyl is a big deal, and some very major reporters in the New York Times wrote about how important it would be if fentanyl really is being described as a controlled substance, but is China really doing that? We have to really go after the facts. I’ve been covering trade since Ronald Reagan was fighting Japanese cars, and going to summits, for 40 years on trade, and covered NAFTA.
You have to know what you’re talking about, and know the background. The business reporters got it before a lot of the other reporters did.
Chuck Todd: However, I would just say it was better this time, but Trump has a pattern. You know, it’s funny. When he started announcing what they were getting out of this Xi dinner, immediately internally, we all said, “Remember, let’s do your best to emphasize on the air that this is just from the White House, we don’t know yet.”
Andrea Mitchell: Which you did.
Hallie Jackson: We think to this day, the president right now has not confirmed the fentanyl.
Chuck Todd: Right, and I’m pretty proud of us as a network, because I feel like that we’ve basically once bitten, twice … You know, once bitten, twice burned, right?
Chuck Todd: I know it’s twice shy, but I felt like I needed to say burned.
It doesn’t work with burned.
Chuck Todd: It didn’t work as well. I used to say my favorite band in the ‘80s was Great White Line Snake, right? Discuss. Now, I’ve lost my train of thought. You can cut this out of the podcast.
Andrea Mitchell: Too much social media.
Chuck Todd: It’s too much social media. That’s what it’s-
Hallie Jackson: Just cue the portal, Kara. Let it go.
All right, I want to get to this next election, and how you guys are looking at this now. The midterms sort of went pretty as much as you all reported. Like, except for some surprises here and there, and who did better and worse. How do you look at this coverage going forward, moving into the next election?
Andrea Mitchell: One of the problems we’re going to have, as we already are, is the multiplicity of Democratic candidates is going to exceed even the 17 that Hallie was thrown into the midst of, and we’re going to have to field a lot of people, some of whom haven’t covered politics.
Chuck Todd: You know, we’re launching MSNBC 8. You know? MSNBC 9, MSNBC 10.
Andrea Mitchell: I mean, so all of that, and trying to figure out, you know, who’s real, who’s not real. We shouldn’t be weeding people out too soon, given our experiences last time around.
Chuck Todd: Unless you’re a lawyer from LA.
Andrea Mitchell: Right. The other thing is, what is the effect on the Senate? You know, Chuck Schumer is already being pressured, as Chuck pointed out on Twitter today, by Jay Inslee and others who are putting pressure on Senate Democrats. Nancy Pelosi is clearly going to feel the pressure from candidates, and on the border wall negotiations, and how much can she compromise to avoid a government shutdown, given that she’s got a speaker election coming up? There’s just so much that is also affected by all of these candidates.
Chuck’s the one’s in charge of it, and he’s going to have to figure out, as our political director. So Chuck, how are you going to do that?
Hallie Jackson: Good luck.
Chuck Todd: No, I think our challenge … I’m worried about multiple issues here. Obviously, number one, you have 34 candidates. There are 34 candidates, and that doesn’t include The Rock, okay? When I say there’s 34 legitimate …
Andrea Mitchell: Avenatti dropped out today.
Chuck Todd: It doesn’t include Avenatti.
Hallie Jackson: Luckily for you, Mark and Sheryl will not be running.
Chuck Todd: They’re not on there either. That’s the point. These are 34…
No, they’re not.
Chuck Todd: I know. Well, are you sure?
Yes, I’m sure. I’m 100 percent sure.
Chuck Todd: I’m guessing George Soros will work on that.
No. I can text her if you want. She’s not running. But go ahead.
Chuck Todd: No, I believe it now. That’s my point. I think she made it harder on herself. I worry about that. I worry about the role the president … You know, unlike previous sitting presidents, this president is going to insert himself into the Democratic primary. He’s going to want to be a pundit every night when there’s a debate. It is going to be imperative on us to be careful in how we cover those things.
And essentially, if Trump’s tweeting about him. “Oh, why does he fear so-and-so?” Whatever. In the same way that he’s tweeting a bunch about Mueller, don’t report what he’s tweeting, report that he is tweeting about X, you know? I think that’s going to be a challenge. We’re also going to have a sitting president who may get challenged in his own primary. That is going to be an allure. That is going to be something we’ll want to …
This president, again, when the stove is on, he puts his hand on it and says, “Watch me.” You know, he runs to the flame, and if he gets a primary challenger, he’s going to want to debate his primary challenger.
Who do you imagine that would be?
Chuck Todd: I think it could be Ben Sasse. I think it could be Jeff Flake. I think less so-
Andrea Mitchell: Jeff Flake.
Chuck Todd: I’m more convinced it’ll be a Jeff Flake or a Ben Sasse than I am a John Kasich. Kasich is trying to see if there is an independent avenue here. You know, I think he’s going to conclude, the way everybody else has, it is the best way to reelect Trump. If you want to reelect Trump, run as an independent.
It’s going to be a challenge to us, because the Democratic nomination … the Republican nomination isn’t really going to be up for grabs, but the president is actually going to embrace the primary challenge just out of pugilism, if you will, and frankly, I think he’ll see it as an opportunity to almost get some more attention. I think it’s going to be a challenge to the network executives.
You know, we only have so much say editorially, but how much do you cover that primary versus that primary? How much attention? And then, also not falling into the trap of only covering the Democratic front runners. That’s going to be, without realizing, that, “Hey, figure out a way …” I think I’ve got crazy ideas of trying to find ways of creating multiple nights for debates, and multiple nights for forums, so that you figure out a way to create an equal opportunity for candidates, to have an opportunity to participate, talking to voters.
Chuck Todd: Now, that doesn’t mean everybody would get the same amount of time, but there’s got to be ways to create, and I think it’s incumbent upon us in the press, in the media, to give them more access to that air time. I think these are going to be some of the-
Or they’ll go elsewhere and do it themselves, like Tom Steyer is doing.
Chuck Todd: Some of them will. Bernie’s going to do this. Bernie Sanders basically did his own little network this weekend, up in Burlington. In fact, I think he even webcast it, if I’m not mistaken.
Well, you even look at a politician … I mean, everybody’s obsessed with Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, but she’s fantastic on social media, like superb.
Hallie Jackson: What her makes so fantastic, right? Here’s the answer. I think it’s that people feel like she’s extremely authentic. That when she’s cooking her mac and cheese, or her coffee stir-
Chuck Todd: Nobody believes someone’s doing it for her.
Hallie Jackson: Exactly. She’s doing it herself. You know who else people thought that way about? Donald Trump, right? I think that as we move into the next two years, the key thing it comes back to is authenticity.
Andrea Mitchell: Yeah, they thought he was a real businessman who never was bankrupt. They thought he, you know, was a billionaire who could save the government. You know what I’m saying? He faked authenticity brilliantly.
Hallie Jackson: I will say a lot of those stories came out prior to the election.
It was from “The Apprentice,” from NBC News. NBC … not News, but NBC Entertainment.
Chuck Todd: NBC Entertainment!
Andrea Mitchell: Not NBC News.
I think they elected-
Chuck Todd: By the way, put that on the guy that runs CNN right now. I wasn’t there. He ran NBC then. Come on, now!
I do think they were electing Donald Trump of “The Apprentice.”
Andrea Mitchell: What I undervalued about Donald Trump in the primaries is that I had never watched “The Apprentice.” I had never watched reality TV. I did not know that he had millions and millions of fans out there. I didn’t know that that base existed. I thought he was not a serious candidate. I did not know that the single most important and visited tourist attraction in all of New York City were people taking selfies in front of Trump Tower. I always thought it was the Statue of Liberty, or the Empire State Building, or 30 Rock.
Chuck Todd: This goes back to what I believe is the single biggest … People say, “How did you guys miss this?” It’s like, “No, no, no, no.” I always say this with Trump. We knew him too well. We were like, “Oh, please. He’s been BSing us for years.” Whether in New York or DC.
Andrea Mitchell: “He’s the birther dude.”
Chuck Todd: “Everybody’s going to see through this guy.” I remember as a kid, you know, my dad going, “Oh, that guy’s a clown. You know? He’s just selling a bill of goods, be careful.” Whatever. I think we all knew him too well, and the rest of the country didn’t know the Atlantic City failure, didn’t know the USFL failure. What they knew of him was just the fun curmudgeon that would be on The Apprentice and every once in a while on wrestling, on WWE Raw. Don’t laugh.
Chuck Todd: Don’t laugh.
Chuck Todd: The wrestling audience-
Andrea Mitchell: Liked him.
Yeah. Just so you know, I watched…
Chuck Todd: … was a big pop culture moment for him.
Andrea Mitchell: He’s brought that into the cabinet.
I watched every episode of The Apprentice, which is why this lesbian from San Francisco thought he was going to win, initially. I thought he was going to do better.
Andrea Mitchell: Next time, I’m interviewing you.
No, not at all. I was just sitting there going, “This guy’s appealing, in a way that’s different.” If you watched it, you could see that. Hallie, what do you think you need to do differently?
Hallie Jackson: I think the challenge for the people who cover the White House, it is a pace that started off unrelenting in the campaign, that then turned unrelenting in the transition, and has not stopped ever since that. You covered the beginning of the Obama years at the White House, which was crazy and intense in its own way, in its own very different way. I think that, for the correspondents who are in the mix there at the White House, there’s a couple of things to do, right?
Number one, it’s navigating the pace and the intensity of what we’re seeing. To Chuck’s point, this is a president who will be campaigning every day in the run up to 2020, because he loves it, because he truly loves getting out of Washington, getting on a plane, going and landing, seeing thousands of people screaming his name at a hangar in the middle of some state, right? Wyoming. He loves it. There’s no reason for him not to do it, because he has put an apparatus in place around him with the staff that knows that he likes it, and is putting them in the position to do that. I think that’s one of the challenges.
I think the other is navigating … You know, it’s so interesting. People talk a lot about the lack of briefings in the White House briefing room, which is true. Sarah Sanders, I think, I might get this stat wrong, three since Labor Day. If Josh Earnest or Jay Carney did that, right?
Andrea Mitchell: The daily briefing is a monthly briefing.
Chuck Todd: Honestly, you’re not going to hear supportive words from me about the daily briefings. I don’t think they should be televised.
Hallie Jackson: You know that I don’t necessarily disagree with you on that. What I bring it up to do is to talk about the president’s access on the South Lawn, and in Oval Office sprays, and in other instances where there’s an opportunity to have interactions with him as reporters. I think it is incumbent on myself, my colleagues at NBC, my colleagues in the White House Press Corps to make sure that you don’t squander those opportunities. I don’t think we do.
Chuck Todd: Can I just say, I think the dumbest critique is the complaint about the press briefing. Just what Hallie just said. My God, we get more access to him on the South Lawn.
Hallie Jackson: Right, so be ready.
Chuck Todd: You’re getting it directly from the horse’s mouth. The press briefing is a waste of time.
100 percent. I mean, Olivia Nuzzi, in the past 17 hours…
Andrea Mitchell: I think we should get out of the White House, actually. They have to do what they do. All the networks have done this. We’ve done it, I think, better than others. We have a new investigative … an expanded investigative team, I should say, in the last two years. We’ve added tremendous depth. It’s very well-coordinated and led in New York. Our political and investigative teams.
We did a piece on section 8 housing in Hartford. An extraordinary, lengthy piece on NBC Nightly News, which showed what the firing of HUD inspectors has meant. What Ben Carson’s agency has really meant for the squalor of people who are still paying these contractors enormous amounts of money not to fix their houses. Now, that’s the kind of piece… We have to go agency by agency, we have to drill down on the EPA, and the firing of scientists. We have to look at Zinke. We’ve done a lot of this.
Do you think your bosses think that?
Andrea Mitchell: They are encouraging this. This is what is-
The noise has made you more substantive? The noise and circus?
Andrea Mitchell: Well, yeah. In fact, we have hired so many more people, there are more White House correspondents, as well as producers, and we also-
Chuck Todd: The issue isn’t coverage. It really isn’t. The issue isn’t coverage.
Andrea Mitchell: It’s airtime.
Chuck Todd: The issue isn’t resources anymore. The problem is this, and it goes back that old days of the newspaper. The newspaper, you could read four stories at the same time, in some ways. You didn’t read them at the same time, but they were all there. In television, you have to make a choice. You only could show one video at a time, and one thing at a time. I do think that if you look at NBC News holistically, we’re covering every one of these stories, in more in-depth ways, and more substantively than we’ve ever done before.
Andrea Mitchell: And on our website.
Chuck Todd: I think sometimes we get judged too much just on what the cable chatter, which does follow the story of the moment, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t a whole bunch more out there. I think the question is, how do you make that more consumer-friendly so consumers demand it? Consumers, sadly, are not demanding it. Let’s not pretend that they are. This is always put on us, and I always say, “You know what? If you guys were right, PBS would’ve been number one a long time ago.”
All right, okay. I want to do a lightning round very quickly, and then questions from the audience, but first, who do you then think right now has more power? Social media or television anymore? I don’t think it’s television. That’s my opinion, obviously.
Chuck Todd: Here’s the thing, what’s interesting is social media still needs the legacy media to be relevant for their moments. Social media spreads what happens on TV news faster than TV news does now. I guess that’s what I would say. Social media still needs the resources of legacy media that actually does half the reporting, well actually, 90% of the reporting that social media talks about.
What’s interesting there is, I agree with you. That social media is the quicker, but television is still … will leave the lasting scar.
Andrea Mitchell: Right, and a lot of what we’re doing on television is, it’s just a matter of platform. We are communicating by posting all of our content on social media. It’s really a more integrated way of communicating.
Except elsewhere, I just did a great podcast, and I urge you all to listen to, with Maria Ressa, who’s just been arrested in the Philippines. I urged her not to go back, and she went back, and was immediately arrested. One of the things she said, she had tried to get Mark Zuckerberg to pay attention to a lot of the fake stories about her. She does a lot of corruption reporting, a lot of very deep investigative reporting, and she said something that I was super struck by. She told Mark Zuckerberg, “97 percent of the people get their news in the Philippines from Facebook.” His answer was, “Well, why don’t we have the other three percent?” Which I literally wanted to clock him when I heard that. I almost drove down to their headquarters and hit him.
One of the things that was interesting about that, was she then said, “What I want to say …” I said, “What would you say to him if you talked to him?” She goes, “We’re a Facebook nation, and you’re killing us.” Which was kind of a really incredible … Everything occurs there, including fake news, and the government uses it, and now she’s being arrested under false … as a journalist.
The power is there, but they push away the responsibility for the power.
Chuck Todd: The tech companies?
Chuck Todd: 1,000 percent. They’re afraid of being called media companies, because they know then the FCC would be regulating them already. A more aggressive FCC, in a different administration, would be.
Do you think that should happen?
Andrea Mitchell: I don’t know that I have an opinion on that right now. Frankly, because I think it’s a more complicated question.
Hallie Jackson: Yeah. I say this to Chris Matthews, “You brought me on to be a reporter, not a pundit, so that’s what I’ll do.” I do think, to Chuck’s point, there is a huge … I’m very struck by that statement you just said. 97 percent, why don’t you have the other three? One of the good things about what we do, there is a diversity of material, and outlets, and coverage, and there are options. People have options. Any one of us may sit here and think that you’re picking the wrong option, right? At any given time. It’s your right to be able to do that. It’s our challenge to be able to put content out there that is so effective, and that grabs you, that the consumer will turn to the coverage we want. I’ll tell you what. I put that piece Andrea talked about on HUD on my show, and gangbusters ratings, right? I do think there is an opportunity for some of that. It was a Swamp Watch segment. We called it like the Ultimate Swamp Watch, because it was. There is a place to do that.
Andrea Mitchell: I think we underestimate the appetite for real, in-depth reporting, and that the investigative reporting should not only be on Mueller and all the rest of that. I think that there are a lot of other things happening. You know, climate. Just the way people live. The way tariffs are affecting soy bean farmers. I just want to dig, and dig, and dig more into the kinds of things we used to do in campaigns. We would start a campaign season with Chuck Todd’s predecessor saying, “Okay, let’s do these issue pieces. Housing, education. Who’s going to do this? Who’s going to do that?” They actually got on the air.
Then, as news just became, as the velocity of what we do, became so extreme, these kind of shelf pieces could never get on the air. They have to be in the moment. They have to-
I do think we underestimate how people-
Andrea Mitchell: … be pegged more to breaking news.
… are dying for smart.
Chuck Todd: All you have to do is look at the appetite for documentaries that’s out there now. I love it. It’s sort of why … Look, I understand, the television viewer, we’re fighting for a specific viewer. It’s a business model, and that’s what you do. We obviously have more we want to get to, so that’s why-
What’s each of yours latest documentary?
Chuck Todd: What’s that?
Which one did you recently watch? I’m going to guess, “Clinton Affair.”
Chuck Todd: No, I haven’t-
Andrea Mitchell: He did a whole film festival.
Chuck Todd: We just did a film festival featuring a bunch of shorts that we’ve been doing. The one that I thought was … The one I was proudest of that participated was one that was on the entire program, the idea of training teachers to have firearms. What was great about it, is the documentary did it without taking a position, but once you went through the documentary, it sort of … You followed this through, and you couldn’t come to any other conclusion other than, “This doesn’t seem like a good idea.”
I thought it was done in such a way that it wasn’t preaching at you and beating you over the head how what an idiot you are to think this. It took everybody, it took it as a genuine way to do it. In that sense, that was when I encourage people … and I’m sorry, if I can remember the name … Go to the Meet the Press website. We’ve got all of that in our showcase.
Andrea Mitchell: I had one, two that really-
Chuck Todd: What was it, Sarah?
Sarah Blackwill: “G is for Gun.”
Chuck Todd: “G is for Gun!” There it is. Thank you. One of my producers, Sarah Blackwill.
Andrea Mitchell: I did one on rape victims-
Chuck Todd: Thank you, Sarah.
Andrea Mitchell: … where rape victims just spoke directly to camera. One of them was a child, and it was incredibly powerful. I still carry that with me. I then brought the directors and one of the victims onto my MSNBC show, because it was so important to me to, you know, give them more opportunity. They hadn’t sold … They don’t have distribution yet. These are experimental short documentaries that Chuck and his MTP team has really brought to the forefront, and we’re trying to give them exposure.
Another was on the Amazon warehouses, where these senior citizens, often people living in trailer parks, trying to put themselves together, because they never came back from the crash in ‘08. They’re trying to earn, you know, a couple of dollars an hour, really terrible wages, going to these distribution centers, and the repetitive stress injuries for these people, they’re in their 70s, and sometimes 80s, and they travel from one distribution center to another, because they’ve lost their homes, and have never recovered from the crash. It’s unbelievable.
I hate to make it worse, but it’s all going to be replaced by robots. Sorry. I’ve been to a recent warehouse, and they’re going to go all … There won’t be any problems with that. There won’t be any jobs, but that’s another issue. Hallie, finish up and then I want to go to the quick lightning round, because I want to get questions from the audience.
Hallie Jackson: All I was going to say is robots are going to take over the world, and this is why I don’t have an Alexa. I refuse to have one in my house. That’s all.
Well, you’re going to have a portal. It’s going to be great.
Andrea Mitchell: They spy on you, don’t they?
They all spy on you. Andrea, these people in Silicon Valley are the Borg. Try to keep that in mind, and you’ll understand everything. They’re the Borg without any social niceties. They never took a humanities course.
Chuck Todd: They didn’t date.
They dated. They date now.
Chuck Todd: They date now.
It’s easier to date when you have plans.
Chuck Todd: If your social media site’s based on the ability that you couldn’t figure out how to meet people, maybe it shouldn’t become a multi-trillion dollar company.
That was actually not accurate. That was actually not accurate. That movie was not accurate.
Chuck Todd: I’m only being sort of facetious.
It’s relatively accurate, but not completely. All right, quick lightning round. Republican nominee for president 2020? Quick.
Chuck Todd: Trump or Pence.
Chuck Todd: I’m just saying. Look, I don’t think … I think that a line you’re going to hear a lot in the next nine months is, “Let’s let the voters decide this.” I do think that that is a phrase you’re going to hear a lot of. Do I think there is a one percent chance he says, “I’m out,” and you just go with the Pence/Haley ticket that Nick Ayers has been dreaming of? Yeah, I think there’s a one percent chance of that.
Andrea Mitchell: Yeah, I would agree with that. It wouldn’t be Haley at the top of the ticket, or would it?
Chuck Todd: Well, if they want to win…
Andrea Mitchell: If they want to win, it would be. I’ve covered her at the UN, and she is a really significant fast learner on that, and has been really adept at navigating. I don’t know what the percentage is of Trump not running for reelection, but I could see him getting fed up if things close in, and if there’s a lot of financial baggage, as well as family exposure.
Hallie Jackson: Yeah, based on my reporting, and where we are in December of 2018, everybody is preparing for Donald Trump to run again.
All right, Democratic nominee. You can pick three.
Chuck Todd: Pick three?
Chuck Todd: I guess the three I would pick, if I could have three right now, would be Warren, Beto, and Harris. Those are the three I would want to have. Those are the three tickets I’d want to hold if I were in Vegas.
Which one do you think is the-
Chuck Todd: I think that Warren has the best chance of wrapping it up early, because if she somehow could win Iowa, she wins New Hampshire, and trust me, this thing would get over faster than maybe many Democrats would want. I know they’ve changed the rules to try to slow it down, and yes, it would get slowed down a bit, but there’s a reason why a whole bunch of Massachusetts people have become nominees of major parties. The winning the New Hampshire primary matters, especially if you do it and you’ve won Iowa, too. Ask John Kerry. It ended, ended a race that literally looked like he was dead in the water two weeks earlier.
That’s why I think Warren is somebody that could … I don’t think Warren could win a long, drawn-out primary, so that’s why she’s one of my three.
Look, somebody, Beto to me is placeholder for now of the total outsider that could come in and capture the imagination. I think if it’s a long drawn-out fight, and let’s say there’s no outside, I think Kamala Harris has much more juice. If Beto sort of doesn’t run, she’s the person that could put together a coalition that was a little bit of the Beto world and a little bit of the young establishment.
Andrea Mitchell: Interesting that none of the older candidates are on your-
Chuck Todd: Elizabeth Warren is in her 60s.
Andrea Mitchell: Yeah, but we’re not talking about the 70s. We’re not talking about Joe Biden.
Chuck Todd: My issue with Bernie and Biden is that-
Bernie, Biden, Bloomberg.
Chuck Todd: … the problem they got-
Andrea Mitchell: Bernie-Biden, and Bloomberg with John Kerry.
Chuck Todd: Don’t forget John Kerry. That’s right.
Andrea Mitchell: Well, John Kerry was sort of teasing the other day, and was asked about it, and said, “Well, I’m not gonna talk about that.” I guess he deflected at Harvard, but then he said, “Joe Biden is, of course, my good friend,” et cetera, but he said the person I think you should look at is a Democrat turned Republican, now a Democrat, Mike Bloomberg, who does have a lot of chits with these young Democrats he helped elect. That said, I don’t think he’s a good retail candidate.
Chuck Todd: Let me just go simple here. Biden and Bernie start out one-two in all the polls. Early name recognition. Their problem for them is they only will go down the first six months of the campaign. They don’t get to go up. That creates a negative perception, negative momentum.
If Joe Biden can figure out how to get into the race in December of next year, if he can hold off the entire year before he has to get in, then that’s the path for Biden. The problem … and I think they know this. The problem for him is, how does he enter as the front-runner and basically watch 40 years of his political life get litigated in ways that will not make him look good…
Andrea Mitchell: But I would just say Beto, I think, is right now the place-holder for someone who could become the next Obama and Obama just met with him, we learned, back here in D.C., and Kamala Harris is really interesting. I would just … somewhere on a ticket, I would throw in Amy Klobuchar.
Andrea Mitchell: Who’s a serious person. Has a great sense of humor.
Chuck Todd: I think she’s the most electable woman running.
Andrea Mitchell: Yeah.
Andrea Mitchell: And next door to Iowa, Minnesota, etc.
Hallie Jackson: Right. I think that most of the names that have been mentioned, the Trump campaign would be licking their chops, praying that one of these people you just named would run, because they feel like they would have a chance. I’m not saying that’s right or wrong, but I do think that there are certain people who scare them, and it’s the Joe Biden, Amy Klobuchar, Sherrod Brown-esque field, because they know that they can take it to Trump in some of those states that Donald Trump did very well in.
And so, I think that that is, from just talking to folks in that world, what gives them the shakes.
Chuck Todd: I’ll tell ya, I think Amy Klobuchar’s probably the best, most electable of that bunch. The problem that I’m curious with Klobuchar and with Sherrod Brown and with Biden, I said with Biden, how do you get through the primary by preaching moderation?
And it’s not to say Amy Klobuchar’s not progressive, and it’s not to say Sherrod Brown’s not progressive, but they both come from the school of politics that says, “You know, you’re going to work with the other side every now and then, you’re going to have these …” And they also have this horrible first name. Their first name is Senator, right? That’s also going to be a problem for anyone, but what I’m trying to figure out is if you don’t inspire passion in the base, how do you get this nomination this year?
Chuck Todd: I don’t think Democrats this time are going to say, “Just find us the most electable person.” I don’t think they’re going to do that.
All right, lastly, since I just interviewed her: Hillary. She kind of left it out there in our interview.
Chuck Todd: Do you remember when Gary Hart got back in?
Chuck Todd: Okay. You remember when Gary Hart got back in?
Andrea Mitchell: Watch the movie.
I’m going to enjoy the Hugh Jackman movie, but-
Chuck Todd: I always hate going to things that I remember living through and I haven’t done the A&E doc yet, because I don’t want to relive it yet. But, when Gary Hart got back in, he did it the way Bill Clinton described what Hillary’s campaign would look like. “Oh, there’d be no consultancy!” It was literally Gary Hart and a driver.
And it was humiliating. Watching him drive around Iowa, do you remember that, getting that one percent, desperate to get in and you’re like … And it was the way he went about it, and I think he had … It was personal pride for him, and I get it.
I thought it diminished him, in a way that was unfair. Like forget the affair, that whole thing, we can … that’s a separate conversation, separate debate.
Seems quaint now.
Chuck Todd: I think if she does this, I think they totally underestimate the venom that’s out there among many Democrats about her and about them right now.
Andrea Mitchell: I agree, fair or not fair. She had her best chance in 2016. She made-
Chuck Todd: I disagree that her best chance-
Andrea Mitchell: Was ‘08?
Chuck Todd: No. I think her best chance to be president was ‘04.
Chuck Todd: I will always go to my grave believing that.
Andrea Mitchell: But I think she had her opportunities and, for whatever happened externally from Comey and the Russians and a lot of other things, and the unfairness of the media, the conventional media putting so much attention on Trump and squeezing out the legitimately serious stuff she did…
I think that there were enough mistakes that were self-inflicted, not just the server, but her reaction to the server. The defensiveness, the inability to come up with a credible explanation quickly, which goes back, I think, decades to when I first started covering her and she was traumatized by that ‘92 campaign, what happened in New Hampshire, and legitimately frightened by the intrusiveness of the “draft dodger,” Jennifer Flowers…
That whole awful New Hampshire introduction to the national stage and I think that that created, in the White House, a tendency to not be transparent, to cover up with her healthcare plan and all the rest of it, and the unfairness of a lot of the editorials; “Who killed Vince Foster?” Number one. Who killed Vince Foster? They were accused of murder.
Yeah. No, I get it.
Andrea Mitchell: It was horrible.
I think if the Clintons killed people, Anthony Weiner would be dead and he’s not.
Andrea Mitchell: Right, so I’m just saying.
Chuck Todd: It is their best character witness, right?
Andrea Mitchell: It’s their best defense against the murder charge. I’m just saying that for all of the reasons-
Andrea Mitchell: That we all know, there’s just too much anger out there in the Democratic party against her. What is your-
Okay. Here’s the last one and then I want to get questions from the audience.
Hallie Jackson: Whether she runs again in 2020, or not, and I think-
Andrea Mitchell: I don’t think she is.
Hallie Jackson: … all signs are that she won’t, right?
Andrea Mitchell: Yeah.
Hallie Jackson: Donald Trump will put her on the ticket in some way, right?
Andrea Mitchell: Right.
Hallie Jackson: She hasn’t gone away. I’ve been hearing about Hillary Clinton from Donald Trump for four years now.
Andrea Mitchell: Yeah.
Hallie Jackson: And it’s going to be another four coming up.
Agreed. It’s an old hit for him. It’s an oldie but goodie, well baddie, unfortunately for her. Questions from the audience? We have about 10 minutes, quickly. Right here.
Audience 1: There’s been a lot of negative sentiment towards technology companies tonight across the board. Are there some positives of either what technology companies are doing, or some companies that get it? I agree, I hate the Portal. I think it stands everything wrong-
You don’t want it, do you?
Audience 1: I definitely do not want it.
It’s like the Zune, except evil. Remember the Zune?
Chuck Todd: Hey, the Zune allowed you to delete individual songs.
Chuck Todd: That is something that drove me nuts, the original iPod didn’t.
So is there any positive?
Audience 1: Are there some good technology companies or initiatives that are going on today?
Hallie Jackson: 100 percent.
Super, really. Look, people at Apple and Microsoft, and other places are horrified with what’s going on with Facebook, because basically, they’re getting dragged in to this. Apple’s got their issues around manufacturing, they’ve got some issues around addiction and things like that. It’s not fully their problem, but it’s an issue. But they’re sort of mature people running that company who are just … I interviewed Tim Cook, and when I said, “What would you do if you were Mark Zuckerberg?” And he said, “I wouldn’t be in this situation.” Which caused Mark to have everyone-
Chuck Todd: He’s really …
Chuck Todd: Does Tim not like Mark at all?
No, he does not like him at all, seconded only to Travis Kalanick. But Tim never breaks a face except with those two, then he’s like highly emotional. But I think there’s some … Airbnb, they guy who runs Airbnb, Brian Chesky, what an astonishing young man he is. He did a lot … He went very out very far on the limb around imagination, he just did it around homelessness, he’s thinking thoughtfully and they’ve got … of course every company has issues, but there’s someone like that. That’s a really interesting and innovative company, I think it is.
I do think Uber’s better with Dara, although they have a huge amount … Dara Khosrowshahi. I think Aaron Levie at Box is interesting. I’m trying to think of different … there’s not that many, are there? But there are. There’s companies like that, through no fault of their own.
I just did a special with Marc Benioff, who was doing a lot with homelessness and sort of shaming all these billionaires into handing over some of their filthy dough, and I like him for that. I like him for that. So yeah, and there’s a lot of really interesting technologies, but the issues they’re dealing with going forward … There’s five of them, there’s AI, self driving, changes in transportation, robotics and there’s one more.
There’s a bunch of them that are really serious and I think they’re going to change society really dramatically. It’s not about dating apps anymore, these are massive technological changes that are coming, that are disturbing to our society in a way that I think we haven’t fully grokked.
I think the people … If you know the people in charge … Like right now AI, 97 percent of the developers are white men. I don’t mean to be rude, but crap in, crap out. Sorry, that’s going to be a problem, right? So they’ve got to think about these issues. I think they just don’t think about them, and they also think they’re really good people. You know what I mean? They do that to you all the time, and then we have the Russia situation and stuff like that.
Anyone, thoughts on tech? Any tech people you like?
Andrea Mitchell: You said it.
What do you like? “Fitbit! Fitbit’s real nice!”
Andrea Mitchell: I use it to tell me how little sleep I’m getting. I mean the whole point was to discipline myself.
Yeah. Do you love the screens? Do you like … Do you feel yourselves addicted? You definitely are. I do.
Chuck Todd: I do two things though now.
Hallie Jackson: Chuck, the mic.
Chuck Todd: I don’t keep my phone at my bedside any more.
Hallie Jackson: I don’t either.
Chuck Todd: I’ve moved it a floor down. I’ve moved it down-
Andrea Mitchell: What if NBC is calling you in the middle of the night?
Chuck Todd: I still have a landline, and sadly the desk figured that out on Saturday morning when President Bush passed away. I got the 1:00 am phone call. And you know what? Landlines still work too if they really have to get a hold of you.
Chuck Todd: But I’ve done that simply because I have not liked the amount of sleep I was getting, and there’s too much. The minute you look at the light at 1:30 in the morning, you’re out.
Andrea Mitchell: You can’t stop.
Chuck Todd: It’s going to take an hour to undo it.
Andrea Mitchell: There’s also studies that the screens themselves are-
I’m going to teach you all about grayscale later but … Next question, right here.
Audience 2: Your thoughts on how the White House intern tried to grab the microphone from Acosta and the ensuing legal-
Your thoughts on that? Hallie, you take that.
Audience 2: Were you there, Ms. Jackson?
Hallie Jackson: Yeah, that was a moment, right? So I’ll say what I’ve said, I think publicly about this before, and that I think I’ve said privately to the people sitting on the stage as well, is that there are multiple things that can be true. Because this was another story where there was a discussion about, is it worth covering? Should we talk about it? Is this too navel-gazey? And I do think that’s a valid concern for members of the press, right? Nobody wants to be talking about themselves all the time when you’re the story.
But a couple of things can be true. It can be true that not all reporters behave the same way in the same setting. It can be true that the White House vastly overreached when they tried to strip Jim of his credentials. And it can be true that we would have needed to put up a united front to say that that is not okay. And all of those things can be true at once, and I think in this instance they were all true at the same time.
I think ultimately, the situation got resolved, in that Jim ended up in the briefing, I saw him overseas in Argentina where he was asking questions of the President about policy and politics, and the questions that any one of us would have asked as well. And so, I think that was a moment that put the press and the White House at a sort of flash point, this like clash point. We’ve had a lot. There’s been a lot of flash points in this Administration. That was probably the biggest and most impactful one.
I think our coverage … I was really pleased with NBC and MSNBC’s coverage. I thought it was sort of the right tone. Not hysterical, didn’t ignore it. It was sort of the right level for that. I think the White House has received a message loud and clear from the courts that this is not acceptable. There’s a lot of talk about these new rules that are in place. I haven’t seen them put into action, and I don’t know that we ever will.
Andrea Mitchell: The one person I don’t think you can blame is an intern, when told by the President of the United States to do something in a public setting. I mean you can’t blame her for anything that happened in that instance.
Yeah, it still was ugly. That’s the way they like it. that’s the fight they wanted, with the press.
Hallie Jackson: People don’t get called on by nobody for no reason. Somebody points at you and says, “Ask your question.”
Right here. We can’t get to all of you tonight, unless these guys want to stay. But they’ve got reporting to do.
Audience 3: I think you would all agree more than ever, there’s so much great journalism going on right now, but there’s a large group of the population that’s kind of shut themselves off from that. The President loves that. How do the press and media re-engage those people to have common shared facts again?
Chuck Todd: Look, this is the … I know 40 percent of the country’s tuned us out. I say this all the time. I’m like, my whole goal on Sunday mornings, and frankly, still at 5:00 pm on MSNBC, is to try to make the show accessible to everybody. I think, for instance, I get a little heat on MS because I’m the show … Andrea and I, all three of our shows in particular, but I’m at a time where there’s not a lot of Republicans on the air.
Not me, the person who’s a Republican, but I book Republicans as my guests when I’m on. The reason is, I think it’s important for instance, and I read a study of this that on Trump fact checks, Republicans correcting the President was more credible to his supporters than a member of the press doing it.
Andrea Mitchell: Of course.
Chuck Todd: So which … right? It somebody, he’s in my tribe. He’s a member of my tribe and he’s telling me that the President has his facts wrong on trade. So one of the … It is important, I think, for that 40 percent to hear from people that they may trust saying, “Hey, this stuff is important. This stuff is true.”
That’s one small thing. In some ways, I think that that’s been … One thing we can’t do, is tell them how stupid they’re being.
Andrea Mitchell: “Deplorable?”
Chuck Todd: And I think that that is … talking down is not the way to do it. So I think that’s one way. The other is one of the things … I think we ought to point out when people are disseminating false information on purpose, and why they’re doing it. Whether it’s happening on prime time on another cable channel-
Which one’s that?
Chuck Todd: … or not. Which one could I be talking to? Which one? I can’t remember.
It rhymes with Vox.
Chuck Todd: It rhymes with Vox.
Okay. Mom’s here, so hush.
Andrea Mitchell: Just to follow up on that. Pat Toomey, the Republican Senator from Pennsylvania, came on to talk about the steel and aluminum tariffs that the President initiated, to try to win that Connor Lamb special election in Western PA. 120,000 steel workers, and he came on my show to talk about how there were more jobs that they were losing in Pennsylvania among manufacturers who use the raw materials than the 120,000, and he was against those tariffs.
That interview, and others, are the way that … as Chuck says, the best way to fact-check some of the false pronouncements about tariffs.
Okay. Alright. Let me do … Sorry, two more questions. There and over there. Sorry. Go ahead. I’m sorry, these guys have to go, they have work to do.
Audience 4: Great discussion, thank you. As you said in your planning meetings, you clearly know that or feel that Trump is playing you. And in my view, from what I work at, certainly he is. He wants the engagement. He doesn’t even care about the quality, he just wants it.
It may be a preposterous thing to ask. I mean you can’t pass per se, you can’t ignore him, that’s not possible. But do you think at all about the possibility of figuring out how to accelerate him-
Hallie Jackson: How to do what?
Audience 4: Accelerate him. Rather than try to stop him or block him, or use the usual rhetorical methods, can you use counter-intuitive approaches to make him be even more than he is? Is that something you think about?
Andrea Mitchell: I’m not sure I understand.
I don’t understand that. To make him more than …?
Audience 4: He is theoretically his own worst enemy. His ideas are untenable. You know this, as reporters, you know it all stinks. So rather than try to say, “It’s not like this. It’s not like that.” Can you figure out, production-wise, how to make him even more … To say, “Well, tell me-
Chuck Todd: So you’re saying to take his sort of … Okay, so let’s say he gets $25 billion, and “you build this wall, what is this wall actually look like?”
Audience 4: Yes.
Chuck Todd: So sort of take him at his … Go down the road, take the absurd premise and sort of take it all the way?
Audience 4: Let him run, give him the leash etc.
Wow, more Donald Trump. What do you think?
Chuck Todd: I mean the problem with there is then we’re in the-
Hallie Jackson: Living in a hypothetical world, right?
Chuck Todd: Are we actually airing potentially fake future news? Right? You know what I mean? I don’t know what that would … I get what you’re saying, like you want to … “You realize if that were true then this, this, and this would be true.” I guess if he’s doing one exaggeration …
Audience 4: Since you can’t-
Chuck Todd: Look, I’ll tell you this. When Scott Walker was running for President, he talked about-
Andrea Mitchell: That actually happened, didn’t it?
Chuck Todd: Yeah. I said, “Everybody talks about the southern border, but during 9/11, have you ever thought about …” I said, “During 9/11, there was the stopped bombing in Seattle. The terrorists came through the northern border.” And I think he said, “Well, maybe we ought to look at a wall there too.” And it ended, it sort of … That goes to your point where you’re sort of … You’re like, “Alright. You want to have a barrier down here, well why just down there? Actually the most famous stopped terrorist attack was a terrorist coming over the northern border. If it is over national security.”
I guess that’s taking your idea and saying, “Okay, that’s your idea then why not for …” That was your proposal?
Audience 4: I’m asking if you think about that.
Okay. I’m going to get to another … yeah.
Andrea Mitchell: I mean, I’ll tell you what we think about more, is how not to accept “the migrants are coming, the caravan are coming” and how not to get swept away in this exaggerated response mechanism. That, we have to moderate. I do though have to take it seriously when the President, on Twitter at 8:40 on a Monday morning, fires the Secretary of State on Twitter. I can’t not report that. I cover the State Department.
Hallie Jackson: Or calls himself a “tariff man” and the Dow drops 800 points, right? To come full circle on the conversation of should you take his tweets seriously or not.
Okay. Last question, which is right here. Okay, sorry.
Audience 5: Hi. So a question that comes up a lot is whether or not social media is good for democracy.
Audience 5: There are obviously … Yeah.
I knew these people before they were billionaires, and I can tell you, no.
Audience 5: Okay. I was going to say there are obviously two sides to, what I think one side obviously kind of outweighs the other one, but I’d like to know what your views on it are, and the reasoning behind the views.
Chuck Todd: We bashed social media. Social media is an opportunity in repressed societies. You know, the beauty of technology has been we’ve been able to perhaps find out what’s happening in some repressed societies, right? And it’s given then a potential outlet, perhaps in Cuba, it’s given them a potential outlet and certain places.
Andrea Mitchell: The Iranian election in ‘09.
Chuck Todd: Right, it was the only way we could cover it was via sort of these back doors of social media, but that feels … That’s the answer I would have given five years ago. And I’m guessing, Kara, you would have said, “Oh yeah, five years ago there was a lot more-”
I’m going to quote Jaron Lanier which you-
Chuck Todd: The good seemed better than the bad. Now, since these regimes are so good at manipulating social media and using … Look at what they’re doing with WhatsApp these days. Two, in some of these places where WhatsApp becomes a source of every horrible rumor in these third-world banana republics these days. I’m struggling now…
It was the access to the ability to broadcast which was the great freedom tool of social media. Okay? The ability to broadcast, the ability to get your message out there. That is the positive. The negative has been the fact that we haven’t been able to figure out how to stop the propagandist. I mean lets … I’m in to … I call it the White Castle, and I always have to say High Castle.
I’ve been to the “High Castle” show, okay. I just sit there and think about this all the time, of the sort of what would Hitler have done with this technology? And you can’t help … what would Himmler, would the actual propagandists have done with this?
So there’s three things. These people who are running these things are not … It’s bigger than they have become. Three things I would put in mind: The Russians did not hack Facebook, they used it as customers of the way it was built. It is being used the way it was built.
Chuck Todd: What a great reminder.
100 percent. They did not hack it. Later they had hacking, but it was not hacked. Two, this is … Jaron Lanier, I recommend you listen to a podcast I did with him or read his book. He loves technology, so do I, but this is the greatest experiment in human communication in history, and it turns out human beings are awful.
We are not capable of it right now. We really, truly are not capable of the power that this has unleashed, and the people that are running these companies were not elected, and they are nation states, and they’re incapable of doing it … most of them not malevolently by the way, FYI, they’re not-
Chuck Todd: It’s out of their-
It’s out of their control.
Chuck Todd: Like you said, it’s out of their control.
And then lastly, go look at some interviews with the people who did the Egyptian … the Arab Spring.
Audience 5: I’m writing a debate on it actually right now, so this is really helpful for me. Thank you.
The guy who organized it is not happy with what happened. And so I think it’s really important to think about that there’s one person who controls the most important communications system on the planet, and he didn’t finish college, nor did he have any humanities courses, nor does he want responsibility for what’s happened.
I hate to beat up on a nice boy like Mark Zuckerberg, but he should not be in charge of this. For the love of God, trust me, I’m telling you. And again, you can mix the personally lovely person, which he by the way is, from the responsibility that it brings. And our government, which these guys cover, is fully incapable of understanding or legislating it, or regulating it. And that’s the problem.
Andrea Mitchell: Just look back at those hearings.
Yeah, the hearings, yeah. All right, final thoughts? Hallie, you feeling good about …?
Hallie Jackson: Buh! Jesus, can’t you go to Chuck for this one, Kara? … No, let me just end of maybe like a slightly lighter note, you know what I mean? Because I do think that there is … I am a bit of a Pollyanna, I get that, right? But I do think there is some good that technology brings to our lives, and I think that the biggest thing is that it’s the double edged sword of connectivity, right, baseline human communication.
But it is a way that I’m able to talk to all of you and communicate with the people in a way that we never have been able to do. I wasn’t able to do when I was in local news 12 years ago, that Chuck wasn’t able to of and Andrea wasn’t able to do when their careers first started, and that’s a good thing. And so, I am, in a small way, while we’ve crapped all over social media tonight, grateful for that one piece of it.
Andrea Mitchell: I would just wish that people would glory in the diversity of what’s out there and not just find their niches and find … and that’s the same in cable as well, and in all kinds of platforms. We don’t have a national conversation, and we don’t come together the way we have, in moments of crisis and moments of joy, often enough. I miss that, and I just wish people would keep their minds open longer.
Chuck Todd: I’m just … If we’re going to say nice things about social media, my favorite thing to do is to … It’s the great answer key. “Hey, I’m getting this weird message on my car, does anybody else own a this?” And I’m telling you, you get the answer! I mean, in some ways that’s crowdsourcing. My favorite part of social media is when you crowdsource an answer, and that’s when it’s like, that’s cool! I now have been able to connect with a whole bunch of people who have like a similar issue that I have in trying to clear this drainpipe or all this stuff.
I actually, that’s the part of this I wish we’d go back to with social media. When we were all just sort of learning, you know, crowdsourcing each other.
Hallie Jackson: Don’t be an asshole, that’s it. That’s the key to all of it.
Alright. And on that note, Hallie Jackson. Thank you Hallie, thank you Andrea, thank you Chuck.
Andrea Mitchell: Thank you, Kara.
Chuck Todd: Thank you, Kara.