Monday, December 15, 2008

Musical Chairs at MSNBC

Last Sunday, NBC News officially announced that chief White House correspondent and host of MSNBC’s "1600 Pennsylvania Avenue" David Gregory would take over “Meet the Press” from temporary host Tom Brokaw, who’s been filling in for the late Tim Russert. Yesterday, it was announced that David Shuster will take over 1600. I’m unenthusiastically neutral about the former choice, but downright disappointed in the latter.

The new star at NBC News is political director Chuck Todd. I respect Todd, who first came to my attention in 2006 when he was editor of the National Journal’s Hotline. A number of my political junkie friends were hoping he would take over Meet, but I didn’t think that would ever happen. True, Todd is clearly the only talking head out there who comes close to possessing Russert’s vast array of political knowledge and understanding. He doesn’t lose his head in bouts of dreamy fantasy like Chris Matthews, he’s not a pundit like Keith Olbermann or Rachel Maddow, and he’s not a make-your-point-by-screaming-louder cable hack like Shuster, or again, Matthews. The problem is, he’s an analyst, not an interviewer. Meet the Press is basically an interview show and Todd has no interview experience, so hoping he’d be the host was unrealistic. As such, I was hoping that NBC would tap chief foreign affairs correspondent Andrea Mitchell to run the program. She’s sub-hosted it before, is a decent reporter with a lot of insider knowledge, and has a lot of gravitas. Plus, she’d be the first woman to host a Sunday morning talk show. I was originally pulling for PBS’ Gwen Ifill, but she bombed as moderator of the VP-debate. The problem with Gregory is that, while he was better than anyone else in the White House press room at grilling press secretaries Scott McLellan and Tony Snow, his questions as a prime-time host were lukewarm at best, and he often seems a little self-absorbed.

While I was at first disappointed in the Gregory pick, I realized that the new prime-time opening might clear the way for Todd to take over and get some real interview experience, allowing him to be the NEXT next host of MTP. Alas, the Shuster announcement squashed that hope.

There are other people I wouldn’t mind seeing in primetime. CNN’s David Gergen has served multiple presidents in both parties and is generally above the cable news fray, so would be good at hosting a prime-time show on the presidency. Or again, Mitchell has gravitas. But Shuster? Really? Talk about your typical cable hack.

As television news goes – and that’s quite the low standard – I like NBC. They’ve got Todd, Brian Williams, the Russert legacy, Morning Joe, and Keith Olbermann (who manages to stay more grounded in facts than the Michael Moores and Sean Hannities of the world). Shuster, however, is no crowning jewel. Like Matthews and Pat Buchanan, he’s the muck you’ve got to wade through to enjoy the rest. Not only did he call Hillary Clinton a “pimp” for letting her adult daughter campaign for her, he’s just plain smug, no better in approach or style than the superficial screamers, as you can see from this clip (stop interrupting the Congresswoman already!), this clip (calm down and interview people who matter!), or this clip (stop shouting!). The guy’s a lousy pundit, not a good journalist. MSNBC has talent, but as long as it thinks it needs to be a liberal Fox News, not just in content but also in style, it will never live up to that promise.


Dogwalkmusings said...

I agree with you about Chuck Todd but I think his style or lack of it kept him from the job. C'mon, we all know an anchor's "sizzle" is far more important than knowledge or expertise! So how do you feel about Jay Carney becoming Biden's spokesperson?

Nathan Empsall said...

Don't know enough about Carney to have an opinion.

BTW, you'll notice a Technorati "top tags" widget on the right side of my blog - I stole the idea from you! Thanks!