I spent several years working for NBC News, first within the network’s Television Stations Division and ultimately for MSNBC in the aftermath of 9/11. The manager who initially brought me in under the tent in Miami was a guy named Don Browne, who was at one time the executive VP of news for NBC and the executive producer of Dateline. He took me under his wing, as he did with a lot of cocky little brats he saw potential in, and tried to educate me in the ways of 30 Rock’s editorial and corporate culture. One of the things he made sure to drill into all our heads was the importance of being cognizant of where we worked and the responsibility that came with it when we interacted with others. He called it “the power of the peacock,” and his point wasn’t that NBC was some kind of hallowed ground, merely that it was a national news network with global reach and with that came status and weight — and it was status and weight you didn’t want to throw around like an asshole.
Either things have really gone downhill at NBC in terms of that kind of professionalism or somebody needs to have a serious talk with the crew that handled Jenna Bush Hager’s Today show shoot at the White House two days ago — because its behavior toward our own Tommy Christopher was infuriating and unacceptable. If you haven’t seen the video Tommy shot yet, you absolutely should. It’s one thing to be a producer willing to move mountains to get what you need in a crunch situation or in the case of breaking news; it’s another thing entirely to try to pull rank and block the perfectly legitimate work of a fully credentialed, veteran member of the White House Press Corp because you don’t want anyone to see the super-secret stand-up you’re shooting with Jenna Freaking Bush. You don’t work for the CIA. You’re not hustling an alien from Area 51 through the side door. And while we may be a small website here, Tommy Christopher is not some interloping member of the gardending staff to whom you get to be pissy and condescending. He’s a journalist, certainly more so than Jenna Bush Hager, and he has every right to be there.
As I watched the person who identified himself as a lighting guy stand in the way of Tommy and make smarmy, patronizing small talk, I was actually shocked at Tommy’s restraint. Yes, Tommy used some profanity once his blood pressure reached a high enough level, but I found my hands actually curling up into fists as the seconds ticked on. I probably would’ve taken a swing at that pompous prick. As for the producer who attempted to “defuse” the situation by, in essence, requesting that a journalist for another outlet honor an embargo she was personally placing on an item — an item of zero importance, incidentally — I’ll give her credit for having a staggering amount of nerve. As Tommy said, he doesn’t work for her. He doesn’t work for NBC. He works for The Daily Banter, which means that he doesn’t have to do a damn thing for the Today show, certainly not after the crew representing it tried to strong-arm him.
I’m glad one of the regular NBC White House people actually did apologize for what happened; that’s not a surprise given that NBC’s DC people are generally pretty terrific. For a Jenna Bush Hager pre-Father’s Day Today show puff-piece, it’s possible that the crew Tommy encountered were based in New York City, but until I find out more — and I intend to — I can’t confirm or even assume.
TV news in general and network news in particular is a grind of a business and I understand all too well what it feels like to be pressed for time and not in the mood for anyone getting in your way, but that still doesn’t excuse how a member of the White House Press Corp was treated by a crew that was there for a one-off shoot. What happened was exactly what it looked like: an NBC News crew for Jenna Bush Hager, someone who’s more a celebrity than a shoe-leather journalist, decided to flex their muscle because they felt like they could.
They did exactly what we were told years ago not to do. They tried to abuse authority they didn’t actually have in that situation. And they were wrong.
Chez Pazienza was the beating heart of The Daily Banter, sadly passing away on February 25, 2017. His voice remains ever present at the Banter, and his influence as powerful as ever.