Obama Scolds 'Incorrigible' NBCer Chuck Todd for Asking Too Many Questions About Mideast Failures

During a joint press conference with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Wednesday, President Obama lectured NBC chief White House correspondent Chuck Todd for asking too many questions: "Chuck, how many do you got? Do you guys do this in the Israeli press? You say you get one question and then you add like five?...You see how the young lady from Channel One, she had one question, she was very well behaved, Chuck?...I mean, you're just incorrigible." [Listen to the audio or watch the video after the jump]

Perhaps it was the content of Todd's questions, rather than the number, that the President objected to: "I want to follow up a little bit on the peace process....you said you weren't going to let this slip to your second term. We're in your second term with the Mideast peace process. What went wrong? Why are we further away from a two-state solution?... what do you believe went wrong? Did you push Israel too hard? What do you wish you would have done differently?"

Turning to Netanyahu, Todd pressed: "Do you accept the President's understanding that Iran is a year away when it comes to nuclear weapons?" Todd continued: "And then another question I had for you is why do you believe-" It was at that point that Obama interrupted him to mock his inquisitiveness.

When Todd finally was able to ask the second question to Netanyahu, it was this: "Why do believe the Israeli people have not embraced President Obama the same way they embraced our last two U.S. presidents?"

An exasperated Obama remarked: "So you had to get a polling question in there right at the end, huh?"

In his response to Todd's questions, Obama conceded: "I am absolutely sure that there are a host of things that I could have done that would have been more deft and, you know, would have created better optics. But ultimately, this is a really hard problem."

On Wednesday's NBC Today, Todd explained that Obama was hoping to "improve his personal perception" in Israel with the trip, after "his public pressure on Israel to stop settlement activity led to a low point in the relationship."

Todd also pointed out the President's unpopularity in the country: "And those confrontations didn't make the President popular here. Nearly 40% of Israelis feel the President is hostile to Israel according to a recent poll."

Sounds like a far cry from the "rock star" status that Meet the Press moderator David Gregory hoped for in an interview with the Israeli ambassador on Sunday.


Here is a transcript of Todd's March 20 press conference exchange with Obama:

3:03PM ET

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: Chuck Todd from NBC.

CHUCK TODD: Thank you Mr. President, Mr. Prime Minister. Mr. President, I want to follow up a little bit on the peace process. You began your term, your first term, big fanfare, the Cairo speech, to talk to the Muslim world, the – the decision to have a Middle East envoy early, you said you weren't going to let this slip to your second term. We're in your second term with the Mideast peace process. What went wrong? Why are we further away from a two-state solution? I know you said you want to talk more about this tomorrow, but I am curious to – what do you believe went wrong? Did you push Israel too hard? What do you – what do you wish you would have done differently?

And Mr. Prime Minister, I want to help out my colleague over here on the follow-up that he had, which had to do with, do you accept the President's understanding that Iran is a year away when it comes to nuclear weapons? And then another question I had for you is why do you believe-

BARACK OBAMA: Chuck, how many do you got? Do you guys do this in the Israeli press? You say you get one question and then you add like five?

TODD: Well, I'm helping him, I'm helping him with his follow-up.

OBAMA: You see how the young lady from Channel One, she had one question, she was very well behaved, Chuck?

TODD: Well, I've got one for you and-

BENJAMIN NETANYAHU: These are Talmudic questions, they have reiterations.  

TODD: I thought I had four questions. Passover starts in a couple days, I get four questions.

[LAUGHTER]

NETANYAHU: Look, this is not a kosher question but don't hog it.

[LAUGHTER]

TODD: I guess I was – my question to you was going to be, why do believe the Israeli people have not embraced President Obama the same way they embraced our last two U.S. presidents? Thank you.  

PRESIDENT OBAMA: So you had to get a polling question in there right at the end, huh?

[LAUGHTER]

OBAMA: Chuck, I mean, you're just incorrigible. Well, look, the opening premise to your question was that having failed to achieve peace in the Middle East, in my first term, that I must have screwed up somehow. And I will tell you, I hope I'm a better president now than when I first came into office, but my commitment was not – was not to achieve a peace deal in my first year, or in my second year or my third year, that would have been nice.

What I said was, I was not going to wait to start on the issue until my second term because I thought it was too important. And that's exactly what I did. I am absolutely sure that there are a host of things that I could have done that would have been more deft and, you know, would have created better optics. But ultimately, this is a really hard problem.

(...)

Kyle Drennen
Kyle Drennen
Kyle Drennen is a News Analyst for MRC