NBC’s Chuck Todd Trashes ‘Tidbit’ Journalism

On this morning’s MSNBC “The Daily Rundown” host Chuck Todd went after what he and his panel dubbed “tidbit” journalism. Their repugnance was high after yesterday’s Etch a Sketch remark from a top Mitt Romney campaign advisor that, they joked angrily, “went viral.”

Todd grumbled over the fact that former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush endorsement of Romney was buried as the result of Romney’s own aide’s gaffe and the state of journalism today. “I’ve been torn and twisted about this story,” said Todd, clearly disturbed. “It is sort of striking how this cycle more than any other is nothing but the gaffe police.”

Todd noted that there is an “entire enterprise” built by the Republican wing of journalism such as Breitbart.com and also the Democratic arena such as ThinkProgress. “This is what they do, they look for the moment that they think they gotcha,” he said.

AP‘s Liz Sidoti, on the panel, jumped in with comparable disgust. “This is all about changing the environment in media and in politics and the nexus of the two,” she said. “It’s all about tidbit journalism, right? It’s all about the little bits that make their way onto YouTube or handhelds.”

Todd chimed in sarcastically, “And it goes VIRAL and it’s the moment.”

Sidota continued, “People lose sight of the other stuff that happened yesterday because everyone was so enamored by the gaffe machine and the gaffe police. I think it really actually is detrimental to political journalism in the long run.”

She blamed the media, political operatives and changes in the Internet. They agreed it’s a vicious cycle. “We could bash us, but we’re not victimless,” said Todd. “At the same time look at what Santorum and Newt did – they grabbed onto it and ran.”

We checked in with media experts to learn their long view of  “tidbit” journalism. “I don’t see why readers have to choose between fun and serious, narrative and informational,” said BuzzFeed Political Editor Ben Smith. “I don’t think readers want to choose one or the other.” Reuter’s media writer Jack Shafer agreed with Smith and remarked, “I reject the concept completely. There is no such thing as ‘tidbit journalism.’ One man’s smoked oyster is another man’s buffet.”

And WaPo media opinion blogger Erik Wemple also refused to join the anti-tidbit journo bandwagon: “If the argument is that the Etch a Sketch controversy somehow overshadowed the important news of Jeb Bush’s endorsement, then count me as a detractor,” he wrote by email. “Endorsements are boring, choreographed, and often void of impact. Etch a Sketch was funny and telling, especially considering how it aligned with a common critique of Mitt Romney. I haven’t done a full accounting of how all the news orgs have handled both stories, but this is a bout of media bashing that I wouldn’t join.”

MSNBC Political Analyst Michelle Bernard was the lone panelist who played devil’s advocate…

“As discouraging as this might be from a journalist’s perspective … I kind of think it is important,” said Bernard. It is giving the American public, who is outside the beltway, [a way] to really see how people think about these things. How many people, just your average Joe Schmo, are watching television and thinking about the campaign in one way, and then can look up and say to themselves, this is how they do it. They say one thing when they are running in the primary and when they swing toward the general they think something else.”

Social media guru Brad Phillips, a.k.a. Mr. Media Training, told FishbowlDC that tidbit journalism isn’t going away anytime soon — in fact, he said, it’s only going to intensify. “There’s nothing new about the media covering gaffes – George Romney, Mitt’s father, saw his own presidential campaign derailed in 1968 after telling an interviewer that American generals ‘brainwashed’ him in Vietnam.

“But what has changed is the sheer number of outlets that cover these gaffes, including millions of individual Twitter feeds and Facebook pages. These mini moments help bloggers and website editors boost their website traffic and help cable news editors fill the 24-hour clock, giving them every incentive to cover these stories en masse.  That trend toward ‘tidbit’ journalism is only going to intensify, especially because the predominant mainstream media bias today isn’t ideological, but rather toward inexpensive, dramatic, tawdry, and visually compelling stories.”