Despite Trump's "Sleepy Eyes" Insults, Chuck Todd Is Handling His Business

Chuck Todd Meet the Press - Publicity - H 2018
William B. Plowman/NBC

The NBC/MSNBC host is gearing up for the second edition of the Meet the Press Film Festival.

Chuck Todd, host of the most watched Sunday morning politics show on television, is multitasking. On top of hosting his daily show on MSNBC and getting ready for Meet the Press on Sundays, Todd is gearing up for the second edition of the Meet the Press Film Festival, and he's excited about it.

Held in Washington, D.C., on Sunday and Monday with AFI, the sold-out festival will screen 23 short-form political documentaries, all of which will be available to watch on NBC News' digital platforms and apps for the next month. (Network personalities like Todd, Andrea Mitchell and Craig Melvin will moderate director Q&A's for each film.)

"When you put on a Sunday show, you don't get a weekend," Todd said. Planning for the film festival, he said, has been "a labor of love."

There's a huge market demand for documentaries, he said, calling them "the new books." In particular, he said that short-form political documentaries present a white space in the market, or so their directors have told him.

For a television personality, Todd is modest — he's not a fan of touting one's ratings, even though Meet won across the board last month and has led the 25-to-54 demo for the last 12 months. "Obviously, it is the measurement," he said. "But, I have always associated people that brag with their ratings with talk radio."

Over the first 20 months of Donald Trump's presidency, Todd has kept his head down, choosing not to respond forcefully and "take the bait" of the president's constant insults, which he said Trump thinks are good for both his ratings and Todd's ratings.

"I'm not one that likes to respond to his tweets," he said. "I don't think that serves anybody any good."

Despite the tweets, Todd said his personal relationship with the president "is never anything but nice, positive."

He said the president conflates his personal and professional relationships with reporters and says, "I have this great personal relationship with these people. How come they don't treat me well?"

Addressing Trump's animus toward him, Todd said: "His issue with me is not me personally. His issue is NBC. NBC's his home network. NBC is where he worked. NBC is what he watches in the morning. ... He watches the Today show. He watches at night."

Todd continued: "You know why I speculate on this? Because he's told me. 'You should be nicer to me. I paid your salary.' He believes that all the money The Celebrity Apprentice made is somehow continuing to generate all this gobs of revenue. ... This goes to the transactional nature of him. So, 'Wait a minute, we're colleagues. I work for NBC, you work for NBC. Aren't we on the same team?'"

He believes Trump's perception of how reporters operate is based on his extensive experience with gossip reporters, who operate differently than professional political reporters.

"His interactions with reporters are always transactional, therefore he assumes all reporters are transactional," Todd said. "I think that's the way he views politics, too."

Of all Trump's insults and pejorative nicknames, the one he's given Todd is among the most confounding: "Sleepy Eyes." At a political rally in March, he called the host "a sleeping son of a bitch." He first branded Todd with the nickname in a September 2011 tweet, and has consistently used it in the seven years since.

Todd said he's asked the president about the origin of the insult and he doesn't remember: "One thing he's said to me: 'Hey, look, once I pick a nickname, I've got to stick to it.' It's all about branding."

"Here's my theory," Todd said. "My theory is he heard sort of a half thing while watching me, and he rewatched it, and he hit pause, and he hears it, and he pauses the TV. And he wants to tweet at me. He wants to hit me. And he looks up on the screen — how often do you hit your pause button and you catch somebody in the middle of a blink and it looks like their eyes are closed, maybe they're half-closed, and you can look weirdly tired or sleepy in that moment."

He continued: "I am convinced he hit pause on his remote, when I said something he didn't like, he hit pause on the remote, picks up his little phone, and, 'Well, I'm going to call him something. What am I going to call him? Oh, 'sleepy,' because he's asleep there. I'm going to call him 'Sleepy Eyes.' And there it was born. ... When you pause on television, you can make anybody look sleepy-eyed."