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Chuck Todd Shouldn’t Apologize for Tackling Uncomfortable Truths

Chuck Todd took to Twitter Monday to apologize for a Meet the Press segment after it accidentally confronted some hard truths.

The segment in question interviewed convicted gun murderers in Sing Sing Correctional Facility, asking them what they would tell their younger selves. It was a touching and probing examination, but all three of the men interviewed were black. Although the segment focused on the important issue of gun violence in the wake of the Charleston massacre of nine African-Americans at the hands of white man, it focused on killers of the “wrong” race.

Liberal outlets responded with reasoned and thoughtful discourse, saying…who are we kidding, they called Todd a racist. Among the criticisms:

Alright, I made up that last one.

But notice what’s missing? I haven’t seen a single critic who has said that NBC’s report was factually inaccurate, incorrect, or anything other than politically incorrect. What we’re seeing is potentially a first: a major figure at a major news network forced to apologize not for inaccurately telling a story or leaving information out of a story, but for covering a story some people don’t want to hear.

Todd and Meet the Press made a decision to cover the “Voices From Within” Project, which uses videos of convicted murders to educate young men of the consequences of gun violence. The men in the video were all black because the Project– not NBC– only interviewed black men in the longer version of the video. Their only options were to only present black voices warning young men with an important message, or to scrap the segment entirely.

As to why all three men they interviewed were black, it might have something to do with the fact that Sing Sing is essentially an upstate dumping ground for New York City’s criminals. Despite what Law and Order may depict, the vast majority of New York City’s murderers are not upper-class white businessmen and pro-life activists. Over 90% of NYC’s murder suspects in 2012 were black or Hispanic, compared to 7% who were white.

And there’s the uncomfortable truth liberals are angry to be confronted with: maybe “Voices From Within” and NBC focused on nonwhite murderers in Sing Sing because the vast majority of murderers in Sing Sing aren’t white. And maybe they selected black voices to warn about the dangers of gun violence because the young people most in need in such a message are black.

Meet the Press could have taken the easy and non-challenging approach to the Charleston massacre. When media outlets inevitably pivot to gun control following mass shootings, the conversation typically centers on how to stop the highly-publicized killings that make up a minute percentage of murder statistics. Meet the Press focused on the actual gun violence problem in America, the kind of gun violence whose victims are overwhelmingly poor, overlooked minorities.

In avoiding the easy, prepackaged media narratives about mass shootings and white shooters, Meet the Press bucked the trend. And in return for the breath of fresh air, Todd was crucified.

What disturbs me most about the backlash to the segment is how strongly liberals pushed back against a particular sentence from his initial explanation of why they ran with the segment: “Meet the Press should make all viewers uncomfortable at some point or we are not doing our job,” Todd wrote. That should be self-evidently true for a opinion-driven show, which exists to convey the entire spectrum of mainstream political thought. But it is even doubly so for hard news reporting, given that not every fact is comfortable to every viewer.

But Al Jazeera America’s Soledad O’Brien responded to the sentiment by tweeting, “Just inappropriate.” Or take Esquire‘s Charles Pierce‘s calm and collected response to the same sentence: “No, goddammit. NO! If you want to know how one of our two major political parties has gone insane, there’s your answer.”

Some critics are even more overt about the fact that they wanted NBC to eliminate anything that challenged their preconceived notions. In its piece calling the video “racist insanity,” Salon also complained that conservative New York Times columnist David Brooks was on the panel. “If Charleston isn’t enough for ‘Meet The Press’ to bump David Brooks, what in God’s name is?” asked writer Jack Mirkinson. God forbid Mikinson hear a conservative opinion on a national network.

Meet the Press is an outlet of NBC News, which exists to report on news and to give its viewers a straight reading of the facts. It’s not their purpose to put forward an agenda or skew its coverage because it makes some readers uncomfortable. Maybe viewers who want their news filtered to fit their own worldview can change over to NBC’s sister network MSNBC to watch Up w/ Steve Kornacki.

Or better yet; maybe Meet the Press should just get a trigger warning and ensure its audience is composed of adults who can handle being challenged.

[Image via MSNBC.com]
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