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Russert protege could take reins

For a few days, it was as if the eyes of the nation's journalists were focused on one man.

The unexpected death Friday of Meet the Press host Tim Russert has filled untold hours of television time, led by Russert's employer NBC News.

Some critics are carping about the volume, but I see this as part of the cycle of grief news operations go through when one of their own passes away. Part of it is the wish to pay tribute (and those tributes do draw viewers); part is the inclination to bury sorrow in work. So, I'm going to pass on wagging my finger at NBC. But I won't resist joining the speculation over who will take over Russert's host chair on Meet the Press.

First, NBC needs to give everyone time to get over Russert's death by using a series of guest hosts. Moving too quickly will look crass, and it won't be fair to whoever gets the job permanently.

Who should guest host: NBC White House correspondent David Gregory, who has filled in for Russert many times, is a natural choice. Longtime viewers will find him a comfortable fit, and he can make it plain that he's just filling in. Other guest hosts should include reporter Andrea Mitchell, who has also subbed for Russert and knows Washington as well as anyone; analyst Chuck Todd, who is now NBC's finest political mind and should get more airtime; former anchor Tom Brokaw, who has often distinguished himself with incisive commentary during election coverage; Washington Week host Gwen Ifill, an MTP regular who hosts her own version on PBS. As a Russert protege, giving her the big gig might be considered the ultimate tribute.

Who shouldn't substitute: Hardball host Chris Matthews and Countdown host Keith Olbermann. Both are too opinionated and too unpredictable for the job. Russert showed us why the MTP host should be impartial as possible, to give politicians the sense they're getting a fair shake.

Who should get the gig: Ifill or, depending on how he does as substitute, Todd. Ifill could hit the ground running, and Todd is a new-school Russert, a sharp political mind with little or no anchor experience.

Gregory should be seasoned on cable as a backup for Matt Lauer; his destiny is wider. Brokaw is too old-school; Meet the Press needs a bridge to the future.

Russert protege could take reins 06/17/08 [Last modified: Thursday, June 19, 2008 12:53pm]
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