A few suggestions for the new leader of Meet the Press
If the New York Times, Politico, the Los Angeles Times and the Huffington Post are to be believed, NBC's Meet the Press is going to get a new master on Sunday, when Tom Brokaw concludes his hour-long interview with President-elect Obama with the announcement that David Gregory is taking over the network's flagship public affairs show.
For political junkies, this is like seeing white smoke at the Vatican. Long ago, Tim Russert turned the Meet the Press job into media's most powerful political reporting gig -- where he could deliver reports on government and politicians for the highest-rated Sunday politics show (MTP), the highest-rated morning news show (Today) and the highest-rated evening news show (Nightly News).
Taking over after the death of Russert, who was America's dean of TV political reporting, will be a monumental challenge. So, of course, this ornery TV critic has a few recommendations for the G-man on how to make it all go smoother.
Number 1: Get more diverse. Now.
If Gregory is the most logical choice -- he's the network's most visible political reporter aside from semi-retired anchor Tom Brokaw -- he is also the safest. And at a time when we have one of the most diverse White House administrations in history, he is also another middle-aged white guy leading the discussion.
So at least broaden the voices at the table beyond the few anointed women and people of color Russert allowed to join his discussions. The Washington Post's Eugene Robinson, NPR's Michele Norris and PBS's Gwen Ifill are cool -- I even suggested Ifill as the best host candidate -- but what about The Atlantic's Ta-Nehisi Coates, or The New Yorker's Kelefa Sanneh or NPR's Farai Chideya, slightly younger voices and people of color with smart, sharp takes on the world.
Number 2: Challenge the Washington establishment more
This should be easy for Gregory -- a guy who made his bones tearing former White House spokesman Scott McClellan a new one during televised press briefings. But if Russert had a flaw, it was the way his status as a Washington insider sometimes kept him from challenging the town's assumptions. The worst example of this may be the lack of pushback during the run up to the war in Iraq, when officials such as Vice President Cheney went on Meet the Press to push questionable intelligence and ultimately flawed ideas about Iraq and terrorism. As incisive as Russert could be in the hunt for hypocrisy and contradiction, I think he got too caught up in What Big Shots Say, rather than the real impact of their actions.
Number 3: Resist the urge to turn the Democrats into a punching bag for balance
Gregory's coming from the liberal-leaning MSNBC hothouse, facing the legacy of a host known for his even-handedness. The easiest route to credibility might be giving Democrats a hard time, just to prove distance and to vet the new guys in power. Here's hoping Gregory's smart enough to know that such effort is a false balance, and results in unfair coverage that mostly serves his public image.
Number 4: Find ways to loosen up the show and reveal yourself
A few things audiences learned about Gregory from his numerous stints guest-hosting the Today show: he's got a great sense of humor, taste for pop culture and even a few quality dance moves. Nobody's suggesting he turn Meet the Press into Solid Gold, but I think Brokaw let the show get a little musty and boring during his tenure.
Gregory's challenge will lie in finding ways to make the show more relatable and compelling while maintaining its credibility and seriousness of purpose. Russert always found time to shout out to his beloved Buffalo Bills and dad Big Russ; surely Gregory can find a way to add a little of his own spice to Meet the Press' august political mix.