David Gregory Isn’t the Only Thing at NBC News That’s Screwed
I’ll make this quick.
Don’t hold your breath waiting for David Gregory to be handed his walking papers. Obviously, Gregory’s had a pretty rough year as the host of NBC’s venerable Sunday morning political talker Meet the Press. He was roundly criticized for questioning whether Glenn Greenwald should be arrested (not anywhere near the big deal some people made of it but still a case of clumsily trudging on very delicate ice); he was nearly prosecuted for violating DC’s gun laws by bringing a high-capacity magazine on-set during an interview with Wayne LaPierre; and he was rightly ridiculed for having a public meltdown over the amount of traffic on the street where he lives. But the bitterest medicine to take has come in the form of MTP‘s ratings, which have hit a 21-year low in both total viewers and demos.
I never liked the idea of Gregory taking the reins of Meet the Press after the death of Tim Russert. Sure, he was one of the first in the White House press corps to truly begin hammering the Bush administration about the myriad ways in which the Iraq war was falling apart in disastrous fashion (though it can easily be argued that he waited for the thing to fall apart before safely raising any kind of stink). But beyond that there’s never been much in the way of journalistic heft to “Stretch’s” work: He’s a Beltway ass-kisser and little more, the nadir of both his career and his ability to be taken seriously coming during that painfully stupid “MC Rove” dance at the Radio and Television Correspondents’ Dinner six years ago.
The thing to keep in mind about Gregory, though, is that while nothing is guaranteed in television news, there’s little reason to believe he’ll be going anywhere anytime soon, despite MTP‘s flailing ratings. The reason for this is obvious: It’s tough to call somebody out for smelling lousy when you’re all sitting in the middle of a garbage dump. NBC News is such a disaster right now from top to bottom — with numbers down across the board, from Today to Nightly to MSNBC — that barring a complete clean-slate wipe, it’s tough to imagine any serious action being taken when it comes to on-air personnel. Incremental adjustments would hardly scratch the surface of fixing the problem; why fire Gregory when you still have Lauer, Williams, and most of MS’s prime-time sitting at the helm of the sinking ship? (For the record, Williams is still terrific and it’s mostly NBC’s idiotic mishandling of him that’s tarnished his formerly spotless image.) NBC News needs a management overhaul somewhere near the top that extends outward and downward throughout the network’s many properties. That or a couple of truly lucky breaks are the only things that might bring it back from the brink.
It’s true that television popularity is cyclical; two decades ago you couldn’t find a CBS prime-time show in the top ten and now it utterly dominates the broadcast medium. It’s also true that we live in the era of the media narrative; NBC’s many trials and tribulations, both onscreen and behind-the-scenes, have been fodder for both the trades and the tabloids, and that kind of thing bleeds out into the public and distorts perception of the network, sometimes in ways that can barely be spotted with the naked eye. NBC’s in trouble partly because the public knows NBC is in trouble. It’s a little like consumer confidence: it feeds on itself.
Yeah, Gregory’s facing a pretty grim outlook, but so is everyone else at NBC News right now.