NBC admits the obvious: one man can't fill Tim Russert's three jobs
1) For the first time, a person of color will head the network's Washington D.C. coverage, an appointment which comes as America may elect its first president of color.
2) NBC has taken the first step in finding someone to take over former bureau chief Tim Russert's most visible role: hosting the Sunday political show Meet the Press.
But the most important news from this announcement is that NBC has officially served notice that one person will not hold all the jobs Russert did before he died last month of a sudden heart attack.
Medical experts can explain the circumstances of Russert's death -- that plaque which built along the sides of his arteries slid into a sudden blockage, stopping blood flow -- but the most casual observer couldn't avoid noticing that NBC's best-known political reporter actually held three different full-time jobs.
By handing executive supervision of Meet the Press, the D.C. bureau and the network's political coverage to Whitaker, the network can focus on finding the right on-air face to front the venerated politics show while former Nightly News anchor Tom Brokaw keeps the seat warm until after the 2008 presidential election.
Of course, one look at Whitaker's new duties -- he's also continuing as a senior vice president at NBC News and planning to make occasional appearances as an on-air analyst -- show he may also have a couple of extra jobs in his portfolio. Still, one of the biggest gigs has been spun off the Russert replacement list.
I also have hope that Whitaker -- who appeared in Chicago at the UNITY: Journalists of Color convention last week -- will diversify the lineup of pundits appearing on Meet the Press, particularly beyond the three or four people of color Russert regularly used.
Here's the press release:
MARK WHITAKER NAMED NBC NEWS D.C. BUREAU CHIEF
Position Includes Executive Oversight of "Meet the Press" and Network Election and Political Coverage
NEW YORK - July 28, 2008 - NBC News announced today that Mark Whitaker has been named Chief of the network's Washington, D.C. bureau. His appointment fills a vacancy left by the untimely death of Tim Russert in June. Whitaker, a veteran, award-winning journalist who is currently a Senior Vice President at NBC News, will assume his duties immediately. The announcement was made by NBC News President Steve Capus, to whom Whitaker will report.
"The enormity of filling this position was by no means lost on any of us, given the significance this job holds, particularly on the eve of an extraordinary presidential election," said Capus. "But the truth is, he is the ideal candidate for the job, and that was evident the minute we took stock of potential replacements. Mark's got all of the components that will assure his success - a commitment to journalistic integrity, political savvy, a keen eye for the future, and a management style that is inclusive and fair. He is exactly what the bureau needs."
Whitaker will continue in his role as SVP at NBC News. His day-to-day responsibilities will include executive oversight of "Meet the Press," as well as of all of NBC News' network election and political coverage. As D.C. Bureau Chief, he will oversee all bureau management and administration, as well as work closely with NBC News Political Director Chuck Todd, and Deputy Bureau Chiefs Wendy Wilkinson and Brady Daniels. Whitaker will also make occasional appearances as an on-air analyst.
"I am looking forward to keeping our coverage of politics and government the best in the business," said Whitaker. "I am honored and humbled to succeed Tim, whose commitment to journalism without fear or favor is a beacon for us all. And I am thrilled to get to work with our unparalleled team of NBC reporters and producers in Washington."
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Prior to joining NBC News, Whitaker served as Editor of Newsweek from 1998-2006. During his tenure with the magazine, the newsweekly published its best-selling issues of all time and had years of record profitability. It also received more editorial awards than at any other time in its history. Among these were the National Magazine Award for General Excellence, the industry's highest prize, in 2002 for coverage of 9/11, and in 2004 for coverage of the Iraq war.
Whitaker also oversaw the growth of Newsweek's web site, which is affiliated with NBC News' MSNBC.com. Its awards included Editor & Publisher's "EPpy" award for best newsmagazine web site and the MIN "Best of the Web Award" for Best National Magazine-Affiliated Web Site.
From 2006 until 2007, Whitaker served as Vice President and Editor-in-Chief of New Ventures at Washingtonpost.Newsweek Interactive, creating new online ventures and multimedia for Newsweek's parent, The Washington Post Company.
Widely respected in the journalism community, Whitaker served as President of the American Society of Magazine Editors from 2004 - 2006. He is a current board member of the Committee to Protect Journalists
Before becoming top editor, Whitaker served as a reporter, writer and editor for Newsweek for two decades. He started his career reporting for Newsweek as a summer intern and stringer in San Francisco, Boston, Washington, London and Paris while in college and graduate school. He became business editor in 1987. As an assistant managing editor and then managing editor from 1991 to 1998, Whitaker helped oversee coverage that included the first Gulf War and the presidential elections of 1992 and 1996.
Whitaker graduated summa cum laude from Harvard College in 1979 and studied international relations at Oxford University's Balliol College as a Marshall Scholar. He is married to Alexis Gelber, Newsweek's director of special projects. They have two children.