Spin Cycle

Chuck Todd, Defending the Craziness

Why he likes the nutty campaign--and old-fashioned phone calls

07.08.12 6:00 PM ET

From the outside, the marathon we call the presidential race can appear insane. But Chuck Todd sees a certain genius in it.

In a video interview, NBC’s chief White House correspondent tells me the endurance contest has value: “This process that we put the presidential candidates through, sometimes it looks ridiculous. It creates these little trials for candidates who are running for president. To operate in this office, you’ve got to be nimble – your ability to navigate all this craziness, get through the hurdles, see if you’re nimble enough, allows you to deal with the unpredictability of the real issues you deal with in the Oval Office.”

Well, maybe. When I pushed back about the media’s role, Todd conceded that the focus is mainly on strategy and tactics: “We don’t do well enough in doing the murder boards when it comes to policy.”

We talked about his MSNBC interview with Eric Fehrnstrom—Todd said he was “surprised” that the Mitt Romney aide denied the health care mandate penalty was a tax, a position his boss later reversed—and about the latest jobless numbers. Romney is walking a “fine line” in not appearing to root for bad economic news, says Todd.

As we chatted about his three jobs—reporter, cable host and political director—Todd insisted he still makes time to call sources: “I do like the old-fashioned phone call. I feel you get more context in a phone call. I don’t like doing a lot of e-mail.” For younger reporters, he says, there’s this “weird passive-aggressive” approach of relying mainly on e-mail, “I think sometimes out of fear, that so-and-so doesn’t want to talk.”

A candid answer that I never would have gotten by e-mailing him.