It's no secret that NBC's "Meet The Press" has been in bad shape of late. Indeed, the show has been on the decline since David Gregory took over in 2008. But the most recent numbers are especially troubling.This is no mystery! The show is completely different without Tim Russert, who challenged his guests — "guests" seems like the wrong word — with questions, often built on a series of quotes — displayed on screen — that would box them in painfully. We at home enjoyed the tension and pain. Gregory expects us to look on as the respected elite of Washington are made comfortable while they deliver the speeches they arrived with. And Gregory plays favorites, shoring up liberal commentators when they seem to be stumbling, supplying arguments and glossing over rough spots for them. Russert would go in for the kill.
Make it fun for us, not for your guests, Gregory. We, the audience, are the guests who need to be having a good time. You don't have a show without us. You just have a bunch of Washington insiders giving their talking points.
Watching last Sunday's show, I mistakenly believed that Gregory vocalized his awareness that he was just letting his guest blather out talking points. The guest was — as Gregory put it — "President Obama's economic point man Gene Sperling. He is the Director of the National Economic Council and Assistant to the President for economic policy." He's the "point man," on the show to give the Administration's points.
I guess they thought this wasn't ludicrous because they had another guy on the other side. It was "the host of CNBC's Mad Money, Jim Cramer. He's got a new book out called Get Rich Carefully." Well, hell! NBC balances the Administration's "point man" with an NBC insider who has a new book. This segment was set up with video of Obama speechifying about how Americans care about mothers and children struggling through tough times. Anyway, that's all so absurdly unpromising that somebody made a decision to put a segment of the panel of commentators before them. The panel normally comes at the end of the show. Instead, the first thing that happens, as Gregory tries to keep us, the audience, on board, is him turning to Chuck Todd — the Political Director of NBC News! — and asking him how Obama can "take his presidency back" — which translates in my head to: Obama's in trouble, how can we help?
The intra-NBC colloquy looks like this:
MR. TODD: Well, it’s going to have to start with making sure health care works. I mean, at the end-- you know, it’s interesting--No! It's not interesting!
I was talking with some administration officials over the weekend...Lucky you! You insider-y insider! I think I'll just lean back while you bathe me in the Administration's talking points. So, yeah, first, make sure health care works. Okay. Hey, NBC bigwigs, complete numbskulls don't even watch Sunday morning news shows.
... and I said so what's your January going to look like, and they ticked off a whole bunch of issues.Really? Thanks, Mr. Todd. Could you now tick off the issues so that we can relive the wonderful experience that you had when some administration officials ticked off talking points to you?
Confirmation to Janet Yellen, fight for unemployment, insurance. We’re going to have those NSA reforms…
GREGORY: Yeah.Oh! An incisive contribution from Mr. Gregory. He says, "yeah." What a nice man! Supporting the recitation of a list of issues by the Political Director of his network.
MR. TODD: …so they're going to take all these issues. They sort of left out health care completely, and I said, so what does health care look like?See? Todd, who's also NBC's Chief White House correspondent, offered a smidgeon of pressure: What about health care?
Well, they said, as long as everything continues to get a little bit better, a little bit better, they think they can somehow ease things. And I-- and ultimately, no matter what, they would like to be talking about anything other than health care.Right! Gregory's contributions, faced with his fellow NBC insider, were: "Yeah" and "Right." Gregory then goes around the table and invites the other panelists to say something about what Obama needs to succeed. Gregory's question is a statement followed by the word "right" — "right" with a question mark. The Obama administration people — Todd's unnamed "officials" — "want some credit for a good year, right?" We have to listen to 3 panelists answer to "Right?," each speaking in an uninterrupted paragraph. (100-150 words in the transcript. I counted.) These guests are: Democratic Congresswoman (Donna Edwards), Steve Schmidt (the ostensible Republican, you know, the one who trashed Sarah Palin after the 2008 election), and Judy Woodruff (from PBS, so presumably NBC's idea of a neutral, objective voice). Do you care what they said? I'll summarize. Edwards said things are getting better and better and that's good news for Obama. Schmidt says health care will be a major issue even though Obama would prefer to forefront other issues. And Woodruff says everything everybody's said so far is right.
Wait, I was wrong about saying that each panelist got out an uninterrupted paragraph. At one point, Gregory interrupted Woodruff to say "Right."
So, is anyone still watching? We arrive at the video of Obama modeling empathy for the poor and hungry. Denying families security is just plain cruel. Sperling and Cramer appear. There's a lot of talk that I won't summarize. And we're getting to the end of the segment, and the transcript looks like this:
MR. SPERLING: …and David, today is the first day-- this is the first week ever where women cannot be discriminated against on their health care just because they're women. It's the first time 129 million Americans…Okay! He says "okay." He doesn't challenge with a question that digs into the meaning of the claim of discrimination.
MR. SPERLING: …cannot be discriminated against because they have a preexisting condition.
GREGORY: These are the selling points.I perked up here. These are the selling points. Is Gregory about to take charge and stop the Administration's "point man" from dropping his points in exactly the form the Administration likes? Will Gregory actually challenge the guest?
MR. SPERLING: I’m talking about…Whoa! I actually cheered out loud as I watched this in real time. Gregory knows what the problem is, I thought. I mean, it's ridiculous that he's saying it out loud: I can't just let you say your selling points. I need to challenge you. But at least it's a start. Admit you've got a problem. I rewound to listen again. I listened to the part that the NBC transcriber rendered as "[crosstalk]."
GREGORY: I’m not going to let you get [crosstalk].
MR. SPERLING: I'm proud of it and-- and it's important for American people.
What Gregory said was: "I’m not going to let you get to all of them 'cause I'm outta time."
Yes, you are out of time. You're all out of time. We're not going to let you get to all your talking points. It's our time, and we're not giving you any more of it.