It was in the press a week before Tom Brokaw announced it on Sunday, but I am not jumping up and down with delight about David Gregory being named as the new moderator of Meet the Press. I don’t think he has the stuff to fill Tim Russert’s shoes- not even close.
He’s adequate, just not exceptional. Mr. Russert knew politics from the inside out and was more of a wonk than a broadcaster. Mr. Russert honed his enormous and impressive knowledge of politics when he was a staffer for New York Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan. His experience, his training and his life gave him an innate understanding of Washington – it was part of the fiber of his being. He also went to law school; which I think is an invaluable asset for someone doing Meet The Press. Not only because it provides an understanding of the law, but it gives you the skills to cross examine someone- an important skill on Meet The Press. On the contrary, Mr. Gregory has always been a broadcaster. He has no training as a lawyer, never staffed a campaign, never worked for an elected official – he didn’t cut his teeth in the arena that he covers as a reporter and he doesn’t seem to have it in his blood. He doesn’t have the passion that Russert had, nor the keen cross examination skills that served Mr. Russert so well.
Mr. Gregory received accolades for his hard hitting questions to President Bush. But were they really hard hitting? I don’t think so. It seems that during the Bush years most in the press corps were afraid to ask really hard questions because they were afraid their access would be revoked. In comparison to his colleagues, Mr. Gregory’s questions seemed hard edged –but really they weren’t as hard edged as they should have been or as Mr. Russert’s questions always were.
But the real difference is “who they are”. Mr. Russert was a sort of everyman. He relished his blue color roots. He could grill a world leader but everyone could relate to him. Mr. Gregory has a certain arrogance and hollowness that just doesn’t match Mr. Russert. This might be harsh- but Mr. Gregory comes across to me as the world’s biggest network sycophant.
The bright spot is that the Meet The Press producer that Mr. Russert nurtured from the time that she was an inrtern will remain. So- there will still be some of Mr. Russert’s shine there- and probably some damned good research too.
According to the New York Times, NBC has designs on using Mr. Gregory to replace Matt Lauer whenever Mr. Lauer decides to leave “Today” and in fact Mr. Gregory’s new contract will keep him Mr. Lauer’s stand-in. Since Mr. Gregory was lobbying hard for the “Meet the Press” gig- it seems that keeping Mr. Gregory happy so he could be used later for “Today” was part of the equation. “Today” is an important and profitable property at NBC so it seems that the NBC executives are most interested in its future because of its profitability. It might have been short sighted to think of Today’s profits than to think about ensuring Mr. Russert’s legacy. Should a news department really be throwing “Meet the Press” at someone so they will stick around to co-host a show that is less news and more entertainment?
I thought that Tim Russert’s protégé Chuck Todd would have been Mr. Russert’s choice if he had been given the chance to choose and he certainly was my choice; too bad he wasn’t NBC’s.