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“Who Needs ‘Meet The Press’?”: It’s Not Sunday Shows Audiences Hate, It’s Sunday Show Hosts

If you want to put your finger on the problem confronting Chuck Todd, who made his much-ballyhooed debut as moderator of NBC’s Meet the Press on Sunday, you don’t have to look much farther than the two “fun new features” introduced on the first show.

Todd said the recurring segment called “Who Needs Washington?” will explore politics beyond the Beltway, which this week meant interviews with mayors of cities that are “going it on their own with little of Washington’s help or dysfunction.” The second new feature is “What everyone in Washington knows but is afraid to say.” This week the thought that dare not speak its insight was “what Hillary Clinton’s really up to.”

But maybe what everyone on Meet the Press is really afraid to say is that Todd’s mission is at best inherently self-contradictory: although his new show desperately wants some outsider cred to boost the ratings, it’s not willing to risk its insider status to do so.

Talking to America’s big-city mayors is hardly new—Sunday shows have always been bringing on local pols who claim to be better at governing than the national leaders. And while the very existence of a Sunday Beltway talk show would seem to hinge on telling you what “everyone in Washington knows” and you don’t, as it turned out, neither Chuck nor his panelists had anything new to say about “what Hillary’s up to.” (And since when was anyone in the media afraid to speculate about that? The only fear you smell is their fear of admitting, “I don’t know.”)

As MTP fell from first to third place during David Gregory’s misbegotten reign, NBC brass realized that something was wrong beyond Gregory, but they weren’t sure what. “The show needs more edge,” NBC News President Deborah Turness recently declared. Format changes, she suggested, will include a panel of journalists questioning guests, as the show did in its earlier, better days. “The one-on-one conversation belongs to a decade ago,” she said. “We need more of a coffeehouse conversation.”

So just how edgy or coffeehouse was yesterday’s show? It stuck to a one-on-one interview, of President Obama, but it usefully tweaked the format so that the panel discussion was interspersed with the interview.

But only one panelist conceivably had “edge,” or his visibly tattooed armed did, anyway: Buzzfeed reporter John Stanton, who’s been a guest on Chris Hayes’s and then Steve Karnaki’s Up—a show that’s edgy enough to not broadcast its need for that quality.

But the other panelists included the usual inside-DC suspects and MSNBC stalwarts: Andrea Mitchell, who has her own MSNBC show and is married to former Fed chair Alan Greenspan; The Washington Post’s Nia-Malika Henderson, who pops up on MSNBC to convey the most conventional wisdom in the most conventional way; and Joe Scarborough, now promoted to an “NBC News senior political analyst.” It’s possible that Joe could bring the edge of his sarcastic annoyance as well as coffeehouse demeanor from Morning Joe. But on Todd’s show, Joe wasn’t allowed to play the alpha male, and he was on his best network TV behavior; he even had only nice things to say about Obama.

Try as he might—and he only might—Todd may not be able to escape the safe blandness endemic to network Sunday shows.

The shadow all the NBC anchors are trying to outgrow is Tim Russert’s, who was MTP host until he unexpectedly died in 2008. Russert had a reputation for “gotcha” journalism, in a good way. He’d use the technology of his era—tapes from the archives—to confront a guest: back then you said that, but now you say this. Some guests were rattled, but the show soon acquired a chummy atmosphere—seasoned pols would lean in and say, “You sure are good with those clips, Tim,” and then chuckle through an analysis of spin. “Meet the talking points,” critic Jay Rosen calls the show.

After all, the hosts and producers didn’t want to alienate the guests they’d need to book down the road. Even more, of course, they didn’t want to alienate the corporate sponsors. Corporations advertised on the Sunday shows to influence policy legislated by the target audience of “thought leaders.” The shows were dominated by companies like GE, Northrup Grumman and Archer Daniels Midland, who helped determine what policies and scandal were not talked about on Sunday shows. Yesterday on MTP, Koch Industries ran its big national ad that says, in so many words, they’re so powerful you’re better off working for them than boycotting them.

The idea is that these corporations are above right/left politics, a delusion the news media helps perpetuate by repeating the false equivalency canard that both political sides are equally guilty of any wrong. This Sunday, Todd kept suggesting that it won’t make any difference if the midterm elections result in a Republican or a Democratic senate majority, because gridlock will rule the day. (Obama gave a decent explanation for why that’s crazy.)

In trying to brand the show and himself, Todd has been repeating his own slogan of sorts: “It’s not politics that people hate, it’s that they hate the politicians that don’t know how to practice the art of it.” That sounds plausible, but it also sounds like a reluctance to examine underlying structural issues to focus instead on the personalities of the moment.

In fact, you might say, it’s not Sunday shows audiences hate, it’s Sunday show hosts.

But as Jason Linkins wrote, “A New Host On ‘Meet The Press’ Isn’t Going To Solve Its Problems.” He made a great case for why John Oliver’s Last Week Tonight “beats ‘Meet The Press’ coming and going. The show literally wandered right onto ‘Meet The Press’ Beltway turf and delivered a report [on the nutritional supplement industry] with a sophistication that no Sunday show has pulled off in years.” It wasn’t just the jokes that made it work, but “the show wanted to have a point” and demonstrated a “real respect and genuine concern for their audience, instead of trying to get over by posing as an ‘insider’ operating under a veil of savviness.”

Todd is smart enough to recognize the problem, but to really shake off that toxic insider status, he might consider Jay Rosen’s advice:

I think it would be wise for Chuck Todd to see himself and his colleagues, Washington journalists, as part of the class that has screwed up politics.

And maybe, in taking over “Meet the Press,” he can begin to address some of how that happened.

 

By: Leslie Savan, The Nation, September 8, 2014

September 9, 2014 Posted by | Media, Meet The Press | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“A Shallow Television Political Reporter”: NBC Analyzing Poor David Gregory To See What Makes His Show So Bad

If it’s Monday, it’s NBC embarrassing itself in front of everyone. Today, the Washington Post’s Paul Farhi brings us the story of a network that can’t figure out why “Meet the Press” isn’t the runaway ratings smash it used to be. (This is not the first piece of this year exploring that subject.) Is the problem host David Gregory? They sent in experts to figure it out:

Last year, the network undertook an unusual assessment of the 43-year-old journalist, commissioning a psychological consultant to interview his friends and even his wife. The idea, according to a network spokeswoman, Meghan Pianta, was “to get perspective and insight from people who know him best.” But the research project struck some at NBC as odd, given that Gregory has been employed there for nearly 20 years.

Well, how absolutely humiliating, to have this reported in the Washington Post. (NBC disputes the use of the word “psychological,” claiming they brought in a “brand consultant.”)

Is there something psychologically wrong with David Gregory? No, besides the usual superhuman vanity of a television professional. He is just not a great host of a news talk show! He is incurious. He asks predictable questions and is not informed enough to ask follow-ups that go beyond the scope of his briefing materials.

And his guests are usually terrible! That is not strictly his fault (maybe NBC should psychologically evaluate its bookers?), though it doesn’t seem like he’d suddenly become a better host with more interesting guests. I mean, he is just going to ask the same sorts of “David Brooks, what does this mean for Hillary 2016?” questions even if the person he is speaking to isn’t actually David Brooks. He thinks like a shallow television political reporter, because that is … what he is. His entire career has been on TV, and all a lifetime of being on TV teaches you is how to simulate gravitas, on TV.

David Gregory should still find some other kind of TV show to host (game show?), but he should know that “Meet the Press” isn’t terrible solely because of him.

 

By: Alex Pareene, Salon, April 21, 2014

April 23, 2014 Posted by | David Gregory, Meet The Press | , , , , , | 2 Comments

“Strangling, Even Without A Tie”: NBC Is Sticking With David Gregory As “Meet The Press” Slowly Dies

NBC’s “Meet the Press” is in trouble. After dominating the Sunday morning ratings war for decades, it has lately faltered, coming in third in the fourth quarter of 2013. Critics and media writers think host David Gregory ought to be replaced. But NBC executives, according to Michael Calderone, are sticking with Gregory. “We’re doubling down on David Gregory right now,” says NBC News senior vice president Alex Wallace. (Wallace may not understand that the phrase “double down” refers to knowingly making a high-risk bet. If that’s the case, she is not alone.)

While they are sticking with Gregory, NBC executives are not too proud to make some desperate grabs for a younger audience. Millions of people still watch the Sunday shows, but few of those viewers are under the age of 55. Network news executives and producers are keen to reach a younger demographic, but unwilling to make some of the more radical changes — like having a non-idiot host and not inviting John McCain on every goddamn week — that may attract a more youthful audience. Instead, NBC’s gambit is having David Gregory do additional interviews and panel discussions to be aired on “the Internet,” a global computer network known to be popular with the non-retired set. To emphasize that he is, as the kids say, “with it,” Gregory will sometimes not wear a tie.

Gregory has long done web-only interviews (“Press Pass”) for the “Meet the Press 24/7″ page, and has been conducting interviews over Twitter (“Tweet the Press”) in the past few months. On Thursday, NBC News launched “Meet the Press Express,” a mid-week digital video series, hosted by Gregory, which features a rotating group of journalists from the network’s Washington bureau.

In a play on the NCAA tournament, Gregory, sans tie, spoke with Roll Call’s Christina Bellantoni, The Atlantic’s Molly Ball, and the Washington Post’s Wesley Lowery about their political brackets, and the group sized up the futures of key political players. The “Meet the Press Express” discussions are expected to be more casual than the Sunday roundtable and to feature a younger generation of political journalists who may someday appear on the television show alongside, say, New York Times columnist Tom Friedman or historian Doris Kearns Goodwin.

Brackets … but for politics? That’s just the sort of outside-the-box approach to political analysis that appeals to a guy like me, an 18-54-year-old male consumer.

All the network Sunday shows, “Meet the Press” included, are notorious for their conservative (in every sense of the word) booking choices. Old, white center-right men dominate the interviews and panels, with the same few faces appearing again and again. So it’s nice to hear that “Meet the Press” will finally feature some younger, fresher voices. But … only on the Web, apparently. Because they are, in some sense, auditioning to be allowed to sit at the Sunday morning grown-ups table with respected elders like Bill Kristol.

But “Meet the Press” is not losing viewers to “Face the Nation” and “This Week” because those shows skew younger — Bob Scheiffer is no one’s idea of a teen idol and those shows have nearly identical booking practices. “Meet the Press” is declining because it’s not the definitive version of its thing — the Sunday morning political chat show — anymore, and its competitors offer essentially the exact same product, giving no one a reason to remain loyal to one over the others.

So I will give NBC some credit. The solution is not to replace Gregory with someone like Chuck Todd, the human incarnation of the odious phrase “politics junkie.” That show would be largely the same. Instead, the network will apparently allow Gregory to continue to guide “Meet the Press” toward its inevitable, long-overdue demise. Which is fine! If there has to be a “Meet the Press” I’d prefer a good one to the current bad one, but there doesn’t actually have to be a “Meet the Press.”

By: Alex Pareene, Salon, March 21, 2014

March 22, 2014 Posted by | Media, Meet The Press | , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“The Press And The ‘Leadership’ Charade”: Pundits Are Professionally Wed To Faulting President Obama For Republicans Shortcomings

Just days after the government shutdown came to an end, and with public opinion polls continuing to show that the Republican Party paid a grave price for its radical and shortsighted maneuver, Meet The Press host David Gregory wanted to discuss President Obama’s failure to lead.

Pointing to a mocking National Journal piece by Ron Fournier, that was headlined “Obama Wins! Big Whoop. Can He Lead?” Gregory pressed his guests about when Obama would finally “demonstrate he can bring along converts to his side and actually get something meaningful accomplished.” Gregory was convinced the president had to shoulder “a big part of the responsibility” for the shutdown crisis, due to the president’s failed leadership. New York Times columnist David Brooks agreed Obama is at fault, stressing “The question he’s never answered in all these years is, ‘How do I build a governing majority in this circumstance?'”

Gregory, Brooks and Fournier were hardly alone in suggesting that Obama’s a failed leader. Why a failure? Because a Democratic president beset by Republicans who just implemented a crazy shutdown strategy hasn’t been able to win them to his side.

In her post-shutdown New York Times column, Maureen Down ridiculed Obama, claiming he “always manages to convey tedium at the idea that he actually has to persuade people to come along with him, given the fact that he feels he’s doing what’s right” (i.e., Obama’s too arrogant to lead.)

And in a lengthy Boston Globe piece last week addressing Obama’s failure to achieve unity inside the Beltway, Matt Viser wrote that Obama “bears considerable responsibility” for the Beltway’s fractured, dysfunctional status today (it’s “his biggest failure”) because “his leadership style” has “angered countless conservatives, who have coalesced into a fiercely uncompromising opposition.” That’s right, it’s Obama’s fault his critics hate him so much.

Talk about blaming the political victim.

As an example of Obama’s allegedly vexing “leadership style,” Viser pointed to the fact Democrats passed a health care reform bill without the support of a single Republican. That “helped spur the creation of the Tea Party and a “de-fund Obamacare” movement,” according to the Globe. But that’s false. The ferocious anti-Obama Tea Party movement exploded into plain view on Fox News 12 months before the party-line health care vote took place in early 2010. Obama’s “leadership style” had nothing to do with the fevered right-wing eruption that greeted his inauguration.

The GOP just suffered a humiliating shutdown loss that has its own members pointing fingers of blame at each other. So of course pundits have turned their attention to Obama and pretended the shutdown was a loss for him, too. Why? Because the Beltway media rules stipulate if both sides were to blame for the shutdown that means both sides suffered losses. So pundits pretend the crisis highlighted Obama’s glaring lack of leadership.

But did it? Does that premise even make sense? Isn’t there a strong argument to be made that, by staring down the radicals inside the Republican Party who closed the government down in search of political ransom, Obama unequivocally led? And that he led on behalf of the majority of Americans who disapproved of the shutdown, who deeply disapprove of the Republican Party, and who likely did not want Obama to give in to the party’s outlandish demands?

Doesn’t leadership count as standing up for what you believe in and not getting run over, not getting trucked by hard-charging foes?

Yet so many pundits are professionally wed to faulting Democrats for Republicans shortcomings that the agreed-up script is that the GOP’s stunning implosion meant Obama failed to lead by not bringing the two parties together. He wasn’t persuasive enough. And if he had just tried a little harder, asked a little nicer, Republicans would’ve totally come around.

Much of the current leadership commentary is built on the tired trope that Obama “promised” to change the tone and culture of Washington; to break down partisan barriers. And since he hasn’t, that’s botched leadership. Of course what Obama did do, like virtually every presidential candidate before him has done, is vow to try to change the culture in Washington, and to try to get both parties together.

The fact that Republicans plotted as far back as January 2009 to make it their primary goal to thwart Obama’s attempt at bipartisanship, is now used as a weapon against the president under the lazy premise he “promised” to change Republican behavior. By failing to lead, by failing to change Republicans’ deeply extremist behavior, Obama must shoulder the blame, goes the faulty Beltway logic.

“Despite polarization, Obama’s two predecessors managed to find common ground with their obstinate opposing parties,” Fournier recently wrote, in a sentence that almost perfectly encapsulates what’s wrong with the trolling about “leadership.” It’s predicated on a completely outdated premise, which suggests that since previous presidents were able to work, at times, with the opposing party that means Obama should too. And if he can’t, that means he’s not leading. That claim entirely omits all the context about today’s radicalized Republican Party. It entirely omits everything that’s happened in American politics since 2009.

For instance, did Obama’s predecessors face opponents who launched an unprecedented campaign to scuttle a Secretary of Defense nomination? Did they face political foes who shut down the federal government in a comically doomed attempt to defund a three-year-old law, who didn’t blink at denying Americans disaster relief aid, or who obstructed legislation that garnered 90 percent support among voters?

They did not.

When Obama’s immediate predecessor was sworn into office, President Bush was soon greeted by liberal Democrat George Miller (D-CA) who promised to help him secure the votes he needed to pass an education bill. And it was liberal Sen. Ted Kennedy (D-MA) who personally guided Bush’s No Child Left Behind legislation through Congress.

Memo to media: Thanks to extremist Republicans, that Washington, D.C. world no longer exists, so stop pretending that it does. And stop penalizing Obama for arriving too late to experience it.

Why doesn’t it exist? Because Republican re-wrote the rules and pundits keep scoring Obama against the old one. They keep scolding him for not winning over purposefully un-persuadable Republicans.

“We’re saying there’s a reason Republicans almost certainly can’t be won over,” noted Washington Post writer Greg Sargent, who regularly pushes back against the media’s “leadership” charade. “And that this reason resides not in the failure of presidential persuasion but in basic realities about today’s GOP.”

Just ask Sen. Pat Toomey (R-PA). After he defied his party and tried to help get a bipartisan background gun check bill through Congress last winter, he explained its defeat: “In the end it didn’t pass because we’re so politicized. There were some on my side who did not want to be seen helping the president do something he wanted to get done, just because the president wanted to do it.”

And with that, Toomey, a Republican senator, gave away the game. He pulled back the curtain and confirmed how the Republican Party actually functions under Obama: It fights him on every conceivable front, withholding the slightest bit of support not necessarily because of ideology, but because most members do not want to see Obama succeed.

Ever.

That represents a stunning lack of leadership. And it’s not coming from the Oval Office.

 

By: Eric Boehlert, Media Matters for America, October 22, 2013

October 23, 2013 Posted by | Media, Politics, Press | , , , , , , | 2 Comments

“The Dunce Vs Deceiver Debate”: Either John Boehner Is Confused Or He Thinks You’re Confused

Watching House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) on “Meet the Press” yesterday, it was hard not to wonder about the Republican leader’s frame of mind. Given the distance between reality and his rhetoric, one question hung over the interview: does Boehner actually believe his own talking points?

For example, the Speaker insisted, “[T]here’s no plan from Senate Democrats or the White House to replace the sequester.” Host David Gregory explained that the claim is “just not true,” leading Boehner to respond:

“Well, David that’s just nonsense. If [President Obama] had a plan, why wouldn’t Senate Democrats go ahead and pass it?”

Now, I suppose it’s possible that the Speaker of the House doesn’t know what a Senate filibuster is, but Boehner has been in Congress for two decades, and I find it implausible that he could be this ignorant. The facts are not in dispute: Democrats unveiled a compromise measure that required concessions from both sides; the plan enjoyed majority support in the Senate; and Republicans filibustered the proposal. That’s not opinion; that’s just what happened.

“If he had a plan, why wouldn’t Senate Democrats go ahead and pass it?” One of two things are true: either the House Speaker has forgotten how a bill becomes a law in 2013 or he’s using deliberately deceptive rhetoric in the hopes that Americans won’t know the difference. It’s one or the other.

What’s worse, the “dunce vs. deceiver” debate intensified as the interview progressed.

Consider this gem:

“Listen, there’s no one in this town who’s tried harder to come to an agreement with the president and to deal with our long-term spending problem, no one.”

If by “tried,” Boehner means “blew off every overly generous offer extended by the White House,” then sure, he tried. In reality, Boehner walked away from the Grand Bargain in 2011, walked away from another Grand Bargain to pursue “Plan B” (remember that fiasco?); and walked away from balanced compromise on sequestration.

Or how about this one about the sequester:

“Listen. I don’t know whether it’s going to hurt the economy or not.”

Boehner, just two weeks ago, wrote a Wall Street Journal op-ed arguing that the sequester is going to hurt the economy. Does the Speaker not remember this?

And finally, let’s not forget this one:

“I’m going to say it one more time. The president got his tax hikes on January the first. The issue here is spending. Spending is out of control.”

First, no sane person could look at stagnant government spending rates during the Obama era and think it’s “out of control.” Second, using Boehner’s own logic, the Speaker got his spending cuts in 2011 — to the tune of nearly $1.5 trillion — so if we’re following his line of reasoning, the issue isn’t spending.

Honestly, Boehner came across as a man who’s just terribly confused about the basics of the ongoing debate. Putting aside ideology and preferred policy agendas, the Speaker just doesn’t seem to keep up on current events especially well — he doesn’t remember the 2011 spending cuts; he doesn’t remember last week’s Senate filibuster; he doesn’t remember President Obama’s offers to cut more spending; he doesn’t remember his own op-eds; and he doesn’t remember the economic growth that followed tax increases in the 1980s and 1990s.

I’m tempted to take up a collection to help buy Boehner some remedial materials, but I’m not sure what he’d need first: an Economic 101 textbook or a subscription to a daily newspaper.

 

By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, March 4, 2013

March 5, 2013 Posted by | Sequester | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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