On Wednesday, May 23, 2018, Chuck Todd began the opening monologue of his daily political show on MSNBC, MTP Daily, by announcing that “President Trump is now claiming that a spy was somehow planted in his campaign by the criminal Deep State for political purposes — think about that for a minute — I’m not kidding — that’s his claim — that is his actual argument from the sitting President of the United States. Is there any evidence to support any of that? Arguably, no.…”
This struck me as an extraordinary remark for a supposedly sane and respectable journalist to make. Is it a matter of debate whether the intelligence community under Obama spied on the Trump campaign? It is not. We know that the operation was called “Crossfire Hurricane” and that members of the NSA and the FBI met with their CIA colleagues at Langley on a regular basis. We know a thousand other details as well, which intersect with names like Christopher Steele. The debate, such as it is, revolves around the reason why the intelligence community was spying, not if it was spying. (No less an authority than James Clapper, the former director of DIA, admitted as much on The View.)
Was Todd innocent or unfamiliar with the reporting done by every news outlet in America? That hardly seemed possible. After all, he has an entire crew of writers and producers to protect him from making such basic factual errors. Was he living in his own private fiction? Had he been asleep for the past six months?
Such questions were rudely answered when Todd invited his panelists to join him in the debate: Washington Post columnist Ruth Marcus, former RNC chairman Michael Steele, and the Washington Bureau chief for the New York Times, Charlie Savage. This motley crew did not quibble with any part of Todd’s opening statement but, rather, cheered him on as spectacularly right.
Marcus blathered about the President being a liar so adept that he somehow warps the world around him into agreement. She certainly wasn’t buying the idea that President Trump was actually spied on by our intelligence services. This was a remarkable thing for her to say, since it was it was her own newspaper that reported on it last Friday. In effect, Marcus was “gaslighting” the President of the United States on television by asserting that he was a liar for simply repeating on Wednesday the headline story of the Washington Post from the previous Friday.
This wasn’t cognitive dissonance, so much as deliberate malice. With a hint of One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. Only this time it was Marcus as Nurse Ratched. What world was she living in? Not the one where you’re a serious journalist, that’s for sure. Michael Steele chimed in with comments that were basically a version of, “So it’s not just me! You guys get it too. What happened in 2016? I mean seriously.…” I’m paraphrasing, of course.
Then Charlie Savage piled on: “Something feels different about this to me. Trump is ordering the Justice Dept to open an investigation into the people who are investigating him. He is actually asserting control over the apparatus of law enforcement. That is new. That is a line he is crossing.” All of this was stated with an air of great concern. The message that Mr. Savage was sending was terrifying: Trump had crossed the Rubicon and initiated a constitutional crisis. Any viewer of the show would be right to wonder if the American Republic had fallen between Tuesday and Wednesday.
Upon further reflection, of course, the news that the President had directed the Department of Justice, which is part of the Executive Branch of the government, to investigate these allegations was not an extraordinary breach of “government norms” but actually a confirmation of them. (We shall leave off the larger question of whether the DOJ is capable of investigating itself.) What was not clear was whether Mr. Savage was unaware that every President has complete control of law enforcement as the Commander in Chief at all times, and as a matter of course, and thus was simply unfamiliar with the Constitution.
Todd’s show did not improve from this abyss of self-deception. It went even lower. He interviewed a Russian journalist, Masha Gessen, who shared her “Rules for Surviving an Autocrat” since, apparently, she cared to inform her American audience that we were all indeed living in a dictatorship. Strange, then, that Comrade Trump was allowing Comrade Masha to appear on TV in this way. Or was Gessen having a bit of fun with Chuck Todd? Her first rule was: “Believe the autocrat.” That’s not something that her fellow panelists seemed much interested in doing on the show.
President Trump, with his very stable genius for nicknames, is fond of referring to the host of MTP Daily as “Sleepy Chuck Todd.” This strikes me as unfair to sleepy people and also inaccurate — Chuck Todd is not tired, he’s delusional. Whether politics and current events are simply beyond the intellect of Todd, who did not manage to finish college with a diploma, is not entirely clear. What is obvious is that Todd and his show provide no meaningful insight into the political world it purports to cover. It does, however, provide a window into the psychic health of our mainstream journalists as they suffer through Trump Derangement Syndrome, and the prognosis for them isn’t good.