The Carl and Dorothy Bennett Center for Judaic Studies hosted a lecture by Chuck Todd, a well-known journalist and moderator of NBC’s “Meet the Press.” The event took place at the Regina A. Quick Center for the Arts on Tuesday, April 10, where he focused on the subject of Jewish identity in the contemporary American political climate.
Prior to joining “Meet the Press,” Todd was the NBC News chief White House correspondent from 2008-14 and hosted MSNBC’s “The Daily Rundown” from 2010-14.
Todd is currently the editor of “First Read,” which is an NBC guide to political news and prevalent trends in Washington, D.C. and the surrounding locale.
Furthermore, Todd is also the political director of NBC News, which entails running all of the news division’s political reporting, as well as overseeing political analysis.
Over the course of the 2008 presidential election, Todd consistently contributed to several television news outlets. He had the opportunity to moderate one of the presidential candidate forums in Iowa during the 2004 election cycle. As of now, he is an avid contributor to publications such as The New York Times, The Washington Post and Atlantic Monthly, of which he is a contributing editor.
Ellen Umansky, Ph.D., the director of the Carl and Dorothy Bennett Center for Judaic Studies, highlighted that, “Chuck Todd’s wide range of knowledge of American politics, his great attention to details, his enthusiasm for wrestling with thorny political issues and most recently, his passionate defense of the first amendment, have helped make ‘Meet the Press’ in both his daily and weekend incarnations, must-see T.V. for millions of Americans.”
One of the overarching themes of the lecture was his heightened interest and awareness of his Jewish identity in regards to its relation to the contentious and equally complex modern American political landscape over the course of the past five years or so. Todd noted in his opening remarks that, “In the last two years, I’ve never felt more Jewish.”
With this newfound intrigue into his identity, he has become more involved with his local temple and cited his Jewish faith as being one of the main sources of his set of values.
However, Todd expressed in relation to his Jewish background, “I’ve never defined myself, professionally, as Jewish. I’ve never thought about it as a professional image. But I will tell you, in the last couple of years I have been reminded of my Jewish background by plenty of random people on social media – let’s just say it’s not positive reinforcement.”
Todd mentioned, in addition to this, that he has experienced a degree of antisemitism that he did not believe existed anymore because it had reminded him of stories his mother and grandmother would tell him.
He mentioned how the problem is becoming increasingly apparent in contemporary society in that, “Suddenly my kids are seeing antisemitism at an age I never saw it. I had to explain the Charlottesville incident to my son. He said ‘why do people hate Jewish people’ he didn’t know that, he didn’t get raised that way.”
As for why he believes it’s important to look into voting patterns of the Jewish people in America, as well as what their significance is in the American political sphere, Todd stated, “I think as a political analyst it’s important to understand how many groups vote. Obviously as someone who analyzes this, it is important for me to understand how practicing Catholics vote, non-practicing Catholics, Jews in Florida versus Jews in New York.”
When it comes to reducing the diverse Jewish population to a single viewpoint, Todd expressed that he becomes quite uncomfortable in this regard. “It is not good for any institution or religion to be perceived as one party over the other, because the minute you are in this polarizing environment, then all of a sudden the other side is not going to be supportive, is not going to be helpful,” Todd further emphasized.
Religion and governance are fundamentally linked, according to Todd, and have, “been intertwined since the dawn of civilization, so you have to have a deep understanding of religions around the world to understand our political divide.”
In terms of his own thoughts on speaking of Judaism and politics in the same light, Todd said, “ I do try to separate Judaism from politics and I do try to seperate it from my job because again… I still was raised with the idea that the two things you don’t talk about in public are religion and politics, and here I am.”
“I have no qualms about having a conversation about it [Judaism] but I think that if you let the perception out there that it’s infused in your coverage, then people are going to look at your coverage differently. Sometimes I want to be a little more opaque,” Todd noted regarding his role as a journalist.
During his lecture, he not only discussed his Jewish identity in connection to politics, but also had quite a bit to say in regards to the 2016 U.S. Presidential Election and the general uncertainty many Americans are feeling in this day and age.
First-year student Nora Hofmann commented, “I thought it was really interesting. I’m here for a class, so I wasn’t really sure what to expect, but I’ve seen Chuck Todd on T.V. and my parents watch him all the time, so I decided to come see what he had to say. I think he had a lot of interesting points that I hadn’t heard of, without it being too partisan.”
Another student in attendance, Conor Naughton ‘20 felt as though, “Chuck Todd did a good job of trying to straddle both sides of the aisle throughout his lecture. Though, he only spoke briefly about his experience as a Jewish person, he still provided thoughtful insights on Judaism and politics in American today.”
There is a growing sense of cultural disconnect, according to Todd, between the coasts of America and the middle of the country that has manifested itself in intense political, but also cultural, polarization.
Todd emphasized during his talk that the role of the president of the United States is to be the spokesperson for freedom and democracy around the world. The position entails a responsibility to denounce hate and discrimination.
First-Year Student, Nicole Maher stated, “I think that his [Todd’s] strongest part was the ending. I do feel like he spent a lot of time talking about the concerns of what’s going on… he feels like there’s more than one path, and a lot of those paths are profitable or positive, so I definitely think he held the overall message of our political future.”
In order to combat polarization, Todd pointed out that, “one of the things this last election has taught everybody is that we have a lot of tribal bubbles that we are all living in, and we need to pop a bunch of these bubbles badly.”