If as many people watched Meet the Press as are obsessing over its new host, NBC could probably close down the rest of the news division. Leaks notwithstanding, the official announcement is currently scheduled for the end of this Sunday’s broadcast—after superanchor Tom Brokaw (who, like former President Jimmy Carter, has elegantly redefined the role of afterlife for the powerful) airs his interview with President-elect Barack Obama.
Rumor, and probably some decent reporting, says the winner of the sweepstakes is David Gregory. But that hasn’t stopped the guesswork as to who will replace the late Tim Russert.
Former host Tim Russert “was at once a creature of Washington, but not a creature of the social circuit in Washington.”
“What all those people pushing for new faces [ Rachel Maddow, Christopher Hitchens, etc.] don’t realize,” Tom Brokaw told me, without breathing a word about the decision, “is that Meet the Press is a big heartland broadcast. It’s where the rest of the nation tunes in to find out what’s going on in the nation’s capital. And it’s not a salon. And Tim was successful at it because he was Everyman to everybody out there and they felt that he represented their sensibilities in a lot of ways. And that he would hold people accountable the way they seemed not to be held accountable by the rest of the Washington press corps, which I think in the eyes of so many people is just one cozy little high school cafeteria.”
Wait, wait. Tim Russert was once a Washington pol himself—and a really good one, and a regular source for those of us on the other side of the fence. How exactly does he escape the tar brush?
“Because he was not a social butterfly, he rarely went out in Washington,” Brokaw reminded me. “He was at once a creature of Washington, but not a creature of the social circuit in Washington.”
Which meant that Saturday nights he was never—or even close to—the last one to leave the party. “Tim figured out that his role was to be as good as he could be on Sunday morning,” Brokaw recalled. “He was very careful not to be perceived as just one more member of the Washington cheering section.”
Good advice, David, or whoever. Get your sleep. Do your job. Or we’ll be starting the speculation all over again.
Lynn Sherr is a former ABC News correspondent, author of Failure Is Impossible: Susan B. Anthony in Her Own Words and Tall Blondes, a book about giraffes. She is also co-editor of Peter Jennings: A Reporter's Life. At ABC’s 20/20 news program, Sherr specialized in women's issues and social change, as well as investigative reports. Her most recent book, a memoir— Outside the Box: My Unscripted Life of Love, Loss and Television News—is just out in paperback.