NBC News presenter Chuck Todd came under fire on March 21 2021 for addressing a mass shooting that killed eight people in the state of Georgia earlier in the week — six of whom were of Asian descent — without asking any Asian-Americans for comment.
The Meet The Press host began receiving criticism after Angelo Carusone, president of progressive media watchdog group Media Matters For America, posted a photograph of Todd and his panel demonstrating the lack of Asian-American representation on the panel:
Media Matters reported a day later that while the Sunday news programs for ABC and CBS featured Asian-American guests, neither Todd’s program nor the right-wing Fox News Channel’s show did the same.
Instead, Todd featured three white people — journalist Jon Ralston; right-wing columnist Peggy Noonan; and Todd’s NBC News cohort Julia Ainsley — and one Black guest, Princeton University professor Eddie Glaude, Jr.
The discussion took place toward the end of the program. According to a transcript of the episode, Todd opened the segment by saying:
Todd opened the discussion saying:
This week gave — brought home to the fact that we’ve had a rising issue in this country with Asian American hate incidents. I want to put up a graphic here to just show even though hate crimes were down overall in 2020, they were up over 100 percent when it came to Asian people, as you can see here. 42 percent reported by Chinese Americans, two and a half times of the reports were more women than men. Eddie, I feel like this week has been one of those, you know, the Asian American community has been talking about this for a year, basically, since the start of the pandemic. And it really took the rest of sort of collective political intelligentsia to take notice, sadly, after the tragedy of this week.
An NBC News spokesperson told us, “We should have had representation of the AAPI community to discuss the fatal shootings in Georgia and we regret that mistake.”
Meanwhile, criticism toward Todd continued apace online. Actor and activist George Takei, for example, posted a photograph of the panel underneath the caption, “Really?!”
“The fact that MEET THE PRESS couldn’t find an Asian American to speak on “Asians being politically silenced / rendered invisible in the media and thus made vulnerable to bigoted rhetoric and violent attack” speaks for itself,” columnist and podcaster Jeff Yang wrote on his own account. “They should’ve just aired a yellow square for an hour.”
We contacted Yang seeking comment on Todd’s coverage. Yang referred us to his online comments, in which he also noted that Todd declined to rebut Noonan when she claimed, unprompted, that “gun control won’t, won’t solve everything”
Todd also covered the shootings earlier in the program as part of an interview with Georgia Sen. Raphael Warnock, who is Black. But rather than address concerns from Asian-American communities or vigils held around the US in response to the shootings, Todd framed his first question to the lawmaker around FBI Director Christopher Wray’s statement that it “does not appear that the motive was racially motivated.”
“I think it’s important that we center the humanity of the victims,” Warnock said in response. “I’m hearing a lot about the shooter, but these precious lives that have been lost, they are attached to families. They’re, you know, they’re connected to people who love them. And so, we need to keep that in mind. Look, law enforcement will go through the work that they need to do, but we all know hate when we see it.”
We also contacted Michelle Ye Hee Lee, president of the Asian American Journalists Association, seeking comment. She did not respond, but she did appear on CNN’s news program Reliable Sources, which aired the same day as Todd’s show, to discuss the news industry’s response to the shootings.
Lee told host Brian Stelter that her group released a guidance to fellow journalists on covering the shootings because newsrooms were “rushing” to say that they were not racially motivated.
“When you’re Asian you know that racism goes hand-in-hand with sexualization and sexual violence against Asian women,” said Lee, a reporter for the Washington Post. “What this showed us was that there’s not enough Asians in these newsrooms or people who are well-versed in the history of Asian communities who are shaping the news or directing how coverage is done.”
Updated March 22 2021, 4:23 p.m. PST: Updated with a comment from NBC News.