Pressure on NBC News’ Chuck Todd not to ‘muck up another debate’ following previous performance

All eyes will be on moderator Chuck Todd during Wednesday’s Democratic presidential primary debate after he was widely criticized for expecting short answers to longwinded questions when NBC News and MSNBC hosted a debate last summer.

Lester Holt, Hallie Jackson and Todd will join Nevada Independent editor Jon Ralston and Telemundo’s Vanessa Hauc as moderators. But Todd – who was recently called out by the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) for evoking Nazis when he suggested that supporters of Sen. Bernie Sanders are part of a "digital brownshirt brigade" – will be under a microscope following his last debate performance.

DePauw University professor and media critic Jeffrey McCall told Fox News that NBC's last debate -- where Holt and Todd were joined by Jose Diaz-Balart, Savannah Guthrie and Rachel Maddow -- was poorly executed and plagued with everything from technical issues to Todd talking over candidates.

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NBC News’ Chuck Todd begged the audience to stay quiet and repeatedly pleaded with candidates to shorten their answers during his last time moderating a debate in June 2019. (REUTERS/Mike Segar)

NBC News’ Chuck Todd begged the audience to stay quiet and repeatedly pleaded with candidates to shorten their answers during his last time moderating a debate in June 2019. (REUTERS/Mike Segar)

“Presumably, the NBC brass has had a chance to review the last event and provide some guidance for tomorrow's forum. Todd and the other moderators need to remember most that the debate must focus on the candidates and not on the moderators,” McCall said.

“I have my doubts that NBC learned enough from last summer's poor performance to provide the nation's voters with a real solid debate,” McCall added. “There is just too much temptation by the moderators and the network to use what should be a public service instead as a promotional event for the network and its personalities, and that entirely changes the equation.”

Todd’s last performance was widely panned by people on both sides of the aisle, with many teasing him for expecting short answers to long questions. Shareblue Media senior writer Oliver Willis called Todd “the worst” and Slate published a story headlined, “It was almost a good debate until Chuck Todd mucked it up.”

“I have my doubts that NBC learned enough from last summer's poor performance to provide the nation's voters with a real solid debate."

— Jeffrey McCall

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Slate’s Justin Peters nicknamed the NBC News host “logorrheic Chuck Todd” and labeled him the event’s biggest loser. The New York Times TV critic James Poniewozik tweeted, “For someone who loves one-word answers, Chuck Todd asks long questions.”

Even liberal “Late Show” host Stephen Colbert made fun of Todd, putting on a faux goatee and begging “please don’t talk too much, OK? You’re not Chuck Todd, I am.”

Liberal comedian Stephen Colbert mocked Chuck Todd’s debate performance.

Liberal comedian Stephen Colbert mocked Chuck Todd’s debate performance.

McCall said that Todd and his colleagues “need to provide questions and prompts that provide each candidate an equal challenge” this time around and avoid “gotcha” questions.

“The candidates are right there in front of each other and can go after each other as they see fit, without sensational manipulation by the moderators. Moderators also need to keep their questions brief. Every second a moderator spends lecturing or showing off takes time away from the candidates,” McCall said. “And, most of all, NBC needs to find a stopwatch so as to assure each candidate gets approximately equal time to speak. That was a problem last time.”

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Media Research Center Deputy Research Director Geoffrey Dickens pondered on Tuesday if Todd will “muck up another debate with his pompous liberalism” in a scathing preview.

New NBCUniversal CEO Jeff Shell will surely have his eyes glued to the Nevada debate, as he was still chairman of NBCUniversal Film and Entertainment when many felt Todd botched his last opportunity. While Shell was technically already promoted to the CEO position, he currently reports to CEO-turned-chairman Steve Burke, who is famously loyal to NBC News chairman Andy Lack amid a laundry list of scandals and public relations nightmares.

But when Burke leaves the company following NBC’s coverage of the Tokyo Summer Olympics, the reins will officially be handed to Shell, who will then report directly to Comcast CEO Brian Roberts and be free to shake up his news division as he sees fit.

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NBC’s “Meet the Press with Chuck Todd” has fared well in the ratings department, regularly outdrawing ABC’s "This Week” and CBS’ “Face the Nation,” but there has been speculation that Todd’s daily version on MSNBC could be moved.

Last month, Page Six cited “TV insiders” who said Todd’s “Meet the Press Daily” on MSNBC could be sidelined or moved to a different timeslot.