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“Basically Unwatchable”: Cancel ‘Meet The Press’; Why This Icon Of Beltway Insiderism Has To Go

It feels like we go through this same routine every few months or so. “Meet the Press” reaches some new low point for ratings, and chatter starts building about how time is running out for host David Gregory. The newest round of speculation comes courtesy of the New York Post and Page Six, which cites “an NBC source” in reporting that Gregory will be given the boot after the midterm elections. NBC, of course, denies all this as mere rumor-mongering and says that they’re sticking with Gregory.

The network’s commitment to Gregory as host of “Meet the Press” is a bit confounding, given that during his tenure the show has collapsed in viewership and has become basically unwatchable. NBC would be completely justified in giving him the boot. And after it does that, it should take the next logical step and just cancel “Meet the Press.”

Forget about a new host, forget about juggling the format, forget about more celebrity guest panelists. They should burn it down from top to bottom.

The problem with “Meet the Press” is that it’s too much of an icon of insider D.C. culture. Its role as a public affairs program has been usurped by a small army of vacant pundits who serve up shallow, predictable opinions that never stray too far from accepted conventional wisdom. And it’s always the same rotating cast of talking heads. Since the beginning of 2013, Newt Gingrich has appeared five times on the program. Rudy Giuliani has made four appearances. Harold Ford Jr. has been on seven times. Nobody gives a thin damn what these people have to say. The past few months have seen Gregory host both Tony Blair and Paul Wolfowitz to discuss violence in Iraq and how the U.S. should fight terrorism. It’s almost as if he’s inviting you not to take him seriously.

Essentially, the show has become a playground for people whose primary calling in life is to be around people in power. And when you look at the names most often mentioned as replacements for Gregory, you don’t see much hope of this dynamic changing. Chuck Todd, who is considered the front-runner for the gig owing to his reputation as a “political junkie,” is as much a devotee of Beltway insiderism as Gregory, and exhibits the sort of forced-centrist behavior that serious pundits believe insulates them from accusations of bias.

The other names that frequently get tossed around? “Morning Joe” hosts Mika Brzezinski and Joe Scarborough, who basically already host their own version of David Gregory’s “Meet the Press” – unwatchable, power-worshiping, dripping with elite condescension, and weirdly tolerant of Harold Ford.

This is a problem facing all the Sunday shows: They’ve become basically indistinguishable from each other, and they’re all fighting for the same dwindling segment of the population that still cares to spend their weekend mornings watching a bunch of (mostly male and white) establishment figures politely argue about politics. Each one is an hour-long exercise in confirmation bias for wealthy old people who want their opinions mouthed back at them by other wealthy old people.

“Meet the Press” under Gregory has tried to shake things up a bit while still hewing to the same tired format, and it’s been a disaster. The average show can feature as many as eight or 10 guests and segments that shift rapidly from one topic to the next without ever pausing to really engage with any of them. The Washington Post’s Paul Farhi described a prototypical show this past April, during the last round of speculation surrounding Gregory’s future:

After opening with Gregory’s taped interview with Ukrainian Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk, the host moved swiftly to live dual-screen chats with Senate Foreign Relations Committee members Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) and Chris Murphy (D-Conn.). Then it was on to the journalists’ roundtable discussion, followed by an interview with Democratic National Committee chair Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-Fla.) about health care and the midterm elections.

Then, still more segments: A new recorded feature called “Meeting America” in which reporter Kevin Tibbles looks at something happening outside Washington (in this case, a debate in Kentucky over the building of a Biblical theme park using tax subsidies); more roundtable discussion; and a photos-of-the-week feature called “Images to Remember.” The program closed with a short interview with New York Times reporter Jo Becker about her new book about gay marriage, “Forcing the Spring.”

A program that frenetic virtually guarantees that nothing interesting will happen. “More interviews, more voices, does not automatically lead to more ‘interesting’ content,” Dave Weigel wrote back in May. “It leads to more content in less time—and less exploration of each subject covered. It robs the Sunday shows of their old advantage, their ability to lock subjects in a well-lit room for most of an hour and boil away their talking points.”

It might be time to realize that there’s no fixing the Sunday shows because they can’t be fixed. Their audiences will continue to disappear, and their influence will continue to wane regardless of which Beltway journalist is elevated to the host’s chair. NBC will ride out “Meet the Press” for as long as it’s profitable, but they’re just prolonging the sad, slow decline.

 

By: Simon Maloy, Salon, July 25, 2014

July 27, 2014 Posted by | David Gregory, 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

“Pushing False Equivalencies”: The Consequences Of Misguided Assumptions

I’m beginning to think an infectious disease is spreading in the nation’s capital. Symptoms include memory loss (forgetting everything Republicans have done in recent years), blurred vision (an inability to see obvious GOP ploys), and an uncontrollable urge to blame “both sides” for everything, even when it doesn’t make any sense.

The disease has already affected pundits like Bob Woodward, Ron Fournier, David Brooks, nearly everyone on the network Sunday shows, and today reaches the editorial board of the Washington Post. Indeed, the Post‘s editors seem to have come down with an especially acute case today, as evidenced this bang-your-head-against-your-desk editorial on the sequester, which cavalierly ignores the paper’s own reporting, and demands that President Obama “lead” by somehow getting congressional Republicans to be more responsible.

You can almost feel James Fallows’ frustration.

In short the facts before us are: an Administration that has gone some distance toward “the center”; a Republican opposition many of whose members still hold the absolutist position that taxes cannot go up at all; a hidden-from-no-one opposition strategy that embraces crises, shutdowns, and sequesters rather than wanting to avert them. […]

That’s the landscape. And what is the Post’s editorial conclusion? You guessed it! The President is to blame, for not “leading” the way to a compromise.

The infectious disease — I’ll assume Fallows was inoculated and therefore immune to its effects — is leading to some kind of bizarre madness in Washington, which is getting worse. It doesn’t matter that President Obama is ready to compromise; it doesn’t matter that Republicans refuse to compromise; and it doesn’t matter that the deficit is already shrinking and that both sides have already approved $2.5 trillion in debt reduction.

What matters, victims of this disease keep telling the rest of us, is that President Obama is obligated to “lead.” Lead where? They don’t know. Lead to what? They don’t know that, either. What would leadership look like, exactly? Apparently, Obama is supposed to use Jedi mind tricks that will make people in the other party — the party that has nothing but contempt and disgust for his presidency — do what he wants them to do.

And if the president doesn’t do this, Obama is, by definition, responsible for Republicans’ opposition to a bipartisan agreement.

This is more than crazy. The media establishment’s incompetence is having a direct role in contributing to a broken and unconstructive process.

Greg Sargent gets this exactly right:

The argument now is basically that the president is the father who must make his problem children behave. Only this is worse than just a dodge. Lots and lots of people are going to get hurt by the sequester. Anyone who helps deflect blame from Republicans — in the full knowledge that they are the primary obstacle to the compromise we need to prevent serious damage from being done to the country — is unwittingly helping to enable their intransigence.

This will no doubt give headaches to those who’ve already contracted the infectious disease, but Greg is right — by blaming Obama for Republicans’ intransigence, the D.C. establishment is encouraging the gridlock they claim to find offensive.

As Jamison Foser recently asked, “When Party A is intransigent but Party B gets blamed for it, what is the likely effect on Party A’s intransigence?” Or as Michael Grunwald added today, “If you were a GOP leader, and every time you were intransigent the Beltway blamed Obama’s failure to lead, would you be less intransigent?”

Pundits obsessed with pushing false equivalencies and needlessly blaming “both sides” are convinced they’re part of the solution. They’re actually part of the problem.

Let’s not forget this thesis from Thomas Mann and Norm Ornstein — who’ve helped offer a cure to this infectious disease — published nearly a year ago, long before the current mess.

We understand the values of mainstream journalists, including the effort to report both sides of a story. But a balanced treatment of an unbalanced phenomenon distorts reality. If the political dynamics of Washington are unlikely to change anytime soon, at least we should change the way that reality is portrayed to the public.

Our advice to the press: Don’t seek professional safety through the even-handed, unfiltered presentation of opposing views. Which politician is telling the truth? Who is taking hostages, at what risks and to what ends?

The first step towards recovery from the disease has nothing to do with party or ideology; it has to do with reality and Civics 101. The media establishment is, as a consequence of this disease, forced to shout “Lead!” uncontrollably, they can at least direct it to those in a position of authority in the party that refuses to compromise, refuses to consider concessions, and refuses to consider governing outside a series of extortion strategies.

 

By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, February 26, 2013

February 27, 2013 Posted by | Journalists, Media | , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

“No Hope Or Maturity”: The United States Congress, A Confederacy of Losers

On Sunday, Senator Joe Manchin (L-West Virginia) took to the floor of the United States Senate to issue a dramatic understatement of the obvious, saying, “ It is absolutely inexcusable that all of us find ourselves in this place at this time … with no plan and no apparent hope.”

While Senator Manchin’s remarks were intended to express the frustration and annoyance that so many Americans are feeling today, I note that his comments were ‘understated’ because, were he to actually say what many Americans of all political stripes are feeling, he would have found it completely impossible to avoid using the word ‘losers’ in his presentation.

This is, after all, what the legislative body of the world’s greatest superpower has become—a confederacy of losers.

With less than 24 hours remaining in a fiscal cliff drama that anyone and everyone should, by now, recognize as having become all about a craven need for attention being acted out by a bunch of people all too willing to make us pay for their never having been quite popular enough in high school, it should be clear that—no matter what sort of agreement these folks might manage to concoct before midnight tonight, if any—Congress has failed and failed in truly epic fashion.

Losers.

If you doubt this for a moment, I offer up yesterday’s Sunday morning television talk show circuit as Exhibit A.

On a Sunday morning where every single, solitary elected official drawing a federal paycheck should have been locked inside the U.S. Capitol or the White House busily engaging in the process of finding a solution, there was no shortage of politicians who found time to parade themselves before the cameras for the purpose of repeating accusations of blame that have been overused to the point where the sting of recrimination was long ago lost.

It began with President Obama’s appearance on “Meet the Press” where he devoted far too much of the interview placing the blame for this travesty onto the shoulders of the Congressional Republicans.

As much as I might agree with the President—and I do—I’ve done enough negotiating to know that if you really want to get to a deal, you are going to find it extremely counter-productive to throw accusations and blame into the air during the final hours of the negotiation. Every moment of Obama’s interview would have been better spent selling his fellow Americans on why his approach is the best path for the nation to take.

Naturally, the Congressional Republicans—for whom “maturity” is as much a four-letter word as “compromise”— could not help but take the bait as they fanned out through the TV landscape to hurl accusations at the President.

My favorite pre-school tongue lashing came from the mouth of Senator John Barrasso (L-Wyoming) who, appearing on CNN’s “State of the Union”, chiming in with, “The president is doing nothing about the addiction that his administration has to spending. He’s the spender in chief.”

Is anyone else troubled by the fact that this childish bit of overused hyperbole is the best one of our elite group of 100 can muster at a time of national trouble?

Even those politicians clever enough to keep their mugs off the screen—so as to at least appear to be working on a deal—had to be heard.

Speaker John Boehner (L-Ohio) could not resist returning the President’s fire with a statement reading, “I am pleased Senators from both parties are currently working to find a bipartisan solution that can finally pass that chamber. That is the type of leadership America needs, not what they saw from the president this morning.”

One would think that Speaker Boehner and his staff would have had more important things to do on this particular Sunday morning than wasting time engaging in a useless school yard fight.

After watching these elected officials publicly waste their time and our tax dollars filling the Sunday morning airwaves with recriminations, I could not help but draw a comparison between these Congressional losers posing on Sunday morning television and those who do their jobs in the public view after the talk shows end and the remainder of a Sunday’s entertainment begins.

How, I wondered, would we respond if NFL players behaved like our elected officials?

Make no mistake-Congress is a team, even if it is one filled with players with differing points of view when it comes to the game plan. I know it is difficult to view them in this manner, as one can barely remember a time when Congress played like a team, but that is precisely what they are intended to be.

Imagine if players on an NFL squad behaved like those who comprise the team we call the United States Congress. Imagine how you would feel if the players on an NFL team went into a critical game more focused on laying blame on team members in anticipation of a loss than coming together to accomplish a critical win?

This would be completely unacceptable to any NFL fan.

Why?

Because even if you hate the quarterback, you are always going to root for the team to win.

For the simple reason that we would never tolerate it, player behavior that is commonplace in Congress is exceedingly rare in the NFL. It is rare because we expect—and we get—more professionalism, maturity and team play from our football players than we do from our elected officials.

No matter what your political preferences, that is a fact that should deeply disturb you.

Now, if you’ve noticed that throughout this article I have replaced the traditional “R” and “D” party identification that typically follows the name of an elected officials (ie. (R-OH) with a designation of “L”—rest assured that these were not typos.

Until our elected officials grow up and accept the responsibility that comes with holding power—whether they be Republicans or Democrats—I prefer to give them the designation they truly deserve—“L” for loser.

I suggest you do the same.

 

By: Rick Ungar, Contributor, Forbes, December 31, 2012

December 31, 2012 Posted by | Congress | , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

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