Please Demote David Gregory, NBC

[ Posted Thursday, August 15th, 2013 – 16:42 UTC ]

While I normally don't go in much for directly attacking media personalities publicly, at times it becomes almost necessary to do so. I offer this up as a warning that the rest of this column will be nothing short of a heartfelt plea to the folks who run the NBC News division to please, please, please replace David Gregory as host of the venerable Meet The Press (the longest-running television show in history). So if that sort of thing isn't your cup of tea, then I'd suggest just skipping today's column.

I'm writing today because of the reported rumors that Gregory's job may be on the line due to dismal ratings, described as the "lowest ratings in at least 21 years in both the total viewer and demo category." NBC's getting beat by the other networks' Sunday morning political chatfests, it seems. There's a reason for this state of affairs, and the reason is the host. In an ominous sign, a few weeks ago a long-time producer of the show left to pursue other interests. So perhaps the rumors of Gregory's imminent exit from the show are believable, even though NBC swears they're standing behind him.

But, television being television, one wonders how long they'll stand behind Gregory, as their ratings swirl further down the toilet. Sooner or later, it's going to be cheaper to just buy out Gregory's contract and bring in a new face. One hopes it'll be sooner.

It has been obvious from the day he took over Meet The Press that Gregory just isn't up to the task. He proves, week after week, that he is absolutely incapable of asking any sort of intelligent followup question whatsoever. He couldn't do so if his very life depended on it. The proof of this is the fact that from time to time, politicians (being politicians) say something stupid, demonstrably false, laughably out-of-touch, or some other category of "newsworthiness" -- and Gregory doesn't even realize it. A newsworthy quote smacks him in the face, and Gregory doesn't nothing more than blink his eyes and move on. Instead of focusing in on whatever newsworthy statement was just made, Gregory looks down at his list and asks the next question his aides have prepared for him. Over and over again, Gregory has to be told -- after the fact -- that news has broken right under his very nose. This is the reason he simply is not qualified to host Meet The Press -- he has no appreciable knowledge base and breathtakingly little intellectual curiosity, which should be two of the main job requirements, really.

Now, others have made different complaints about Gregory's hosting abilities. Some say he's too right-wing for the job. It's true that Gregory fawns over conservatives while interrupting liberals and sneering at their point of view, but that is true on many political talk shows. Bias doesn't preclude good interviewing skills, in fact. Personally, of the "big four" broadcast network Sunday morning hosts, I think Chris Wallace of (gasp!) Fox News is probably the best interviewer in the bunch. Sure, he attacks liberal guests on his show. But the key difference is that he also attacks conservative guests. For both, he does so using facts and quotes and he refuses to let politicians get by with the "easy brush-off" answer. He bores in and challenges their easy assumptions -- again, using facts and actual quotes. For both sides of the aisle. Which is why I think he's the best at his job of the four Sunday morning hosts (Chris Wallace, George Stephanopoulos, Bob Schieffer, and David Gregory). So I really don't have a problem with Gregory's own personal politics, but I do have a problem when he allows this bias to plainly show by giving conservatives softball interviews and constantly (and rudely) interrupting liberals.

Likewise, I don't fault Gregory for booking conservatives over liberals with approximately a 2-to-1 ratio, because this is a problem across the industry. It's been well-documented that conservatives get booked on these shows at a disproportionate rate -- no matter which party is currently in power in Washington. But Gregory isn't the one who books the guests, so I can't really lay that at his feet.

Meet The Press has shown a bit of desperation in their format in the past few weeks, which is usually a sign that someone is aware the show is flailing around like a fish out of water. The standard, traditional format of Sunday morning shows is a clean three segments, the first two interviews and the last one being a "roundtable" of other pundits batting the subjects around. Ever since ABC introduced a hyper reshuffling of this format (with multiple panels, short interviews, and then sometimes crossover panel/interview mashups), the other Sunday shows have been considering copying their new style. This is a mistake, because these shows' real value is the fact that they do conduct longer, more in-depth interviews than you normally see on cable. Rather than a two-and-a-half-minute bit where a politician is doing good to get out a few talking points, on Sundays politicians have to answer questions for fifteen or twenty minutes -- leaving a lot more room for intelligent discussion of the issues. But, again, I can't fault Gregory for the format of the show, as this sort of thing is likely decided by others.

Some of you may be wondering why I should care -- if I can't stand David Gregory, then just don't watch NBC on Sunday mornings, right? However, when I got serious about political commentary, I quickly learned that it was an absolute necessity to watch all of the Sunday shows, to see not only if any news is breaking on them, but also to keep a finger on the pulse of the mainstream media and the political world. Due diligence pretty much forces me to spend three or four hours on Sunday listening to the hot air emanating from my television set. I would use the line "I watch these shows so you don't have to," but Jason Linkins over at the Huffington Post deserves it more (his liveblog "Sunday Talking Heads" is a hilarious wrapup each week, and I highly recommend it to all).

So call this a selfish column, if you will. I am begging NBC to change hosts because it would be much more enjoyable for me to spend an hour each week listening to someone who knew what they were talking about and who knew how to ask a followup question. I would scream at the screen less (to put it another way), which would frighten my cat less.

Lefties, of course, greeted the rumors of Gregory possibly being forced out with glee, and one name was on everyone's lips (or keyboards) as the perfect replacement: give the show to Rachel Maddow! I consider this wishful thinking, at best. I mean, I'd watch that show, don't get me wrong, but I also don't think she'd be first in line to sit in Gregory's vacated chair. I think that NBC News wouldn't reach out to the MSNBC team, but rather choose from one of their own "bench." Even narrowing it down to just NBC News pundits would still allow a wide selection of people who would be much better as the host of Meet The Press.

The first name that springs to mind is Chuck Todd, in fact. His interviewing skills aren't normally his strong point, but he is pretty much steeped in the minutiae of politics, and would be able to challenge nonsense from politicians without even referring to his notes. The second choice might be weekend anchor Lester Holt, who seems far more competent than Brian Williams, in fact. Andrea Mitchell could possibly be on the short list as well (although being married to Alan Greenspan might preclude that). There are many others at NBC than just these three who would likely do a far better job hosting Meet The Press than David Gregory. So even if the liberal dream of Rachel Maddow hosting doesn't happen, the show would still measurably improve with just about anyone else wandering the hallways at NBC News.

Maybe NBC is telling the truth. Maybe they're standing behind Gregory, at least for now. But if phrases like "worst ratings in 21 years" continue to apply to Meet The Press, then the network executives will eventually have to make a change for the better. As far as I'm concerned, this change can't come quickly enough.

Please, NBC. Please, please, please replace David Gregory at the helm of Meet The Press, so that the show can regain its former prominence. Pretty please?

-- Chris Weigant


Follow Chris on Twitter: @ChrisWeigant


One Comment on “Please Demote David Gregory, NBC”

  1. [1] 
    Kevin wrote:

    Glad to hear you touting Jason Linkins. I've loved his stuff since I first started reading HuffPo. Sadly, he's the only reason to go there and a few other writers I read at their own sites. The present editorial regime makes me think of tabloid journalism on the internet. Even reading Linkins' Sunday roundup has been too discouraging lately due to the unbelievable awfullness the wingnuts have been shrieking about. I don't know how you and Linkins can stand to watch without going round the bend.

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