Political Animal


September 30, 2012 12:40 PM David Gregory’s Tim Russert Problem

By Simon van Zuylen-Wood

Mark Leibovich, in his 2008 profile of Chris Matthews, reported that the MSNBC talking head lived under the constant shadow of then-Meet the Press host Tim Russert.

Russert, the inquisitive jackhammer host of “Meet the Press” — is a particular obsession of Matthews’s. Matthews craves Russert’s approval like that of an older brother.

Following Russert’s death several months after that profile was written, David Gregory took over Russert’s seat. And since then, it’s always seemed to me that Gregory, much more so than Matthews, has suffered from attempts to live up to Russert. While Matthews wears his liberalism on his sleeve, Gregory feels he must maintain a tough-talking ‘pox on both houses’ approach that has become increasingly difficult as the Republican party has veered rightward. Take, for example, today’s Meet the Press.

Earlier this morning, Gregory asked New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie to explain why Romney rarely gets specific about his proposed policies. Christie dodged the question, responding that it was Obama who needed explain why, among other things, he rejected the recommendations of the 2010 Simpson-Bowles deficit reduction plan. (He likely rejected it, by the way, because Congress wasn’t adopting it either, so doing so would needlessly hurt him with the base, which wasn’t happy with the entitlement reductions enumerated in the plan.) And why didn’t Congress adopt the plan? Because Mitt Romney’s running mate Paul Ryan almost single-handedly derailed it.

Ryan [was] “clearly was the leader” of House Republicans in setting the terms of a grand debt bargain, said Andy Stern, a panel member and Democrat….Ryan’s support would have likely drawn votes from (David) Camp and possibly (Jeb) Hensarling and made it all but impossible for the president to reject a plan created by his own self- appointed commission.

But rather than push back agianst Christie, Gregory shifted gears and asked him about his RNC speech. Gregory’s reluctance to mention Ryan’s complicity in the failure of Simpson-Bowles—not to mention the President’s 2011 commitment to a ‘grand bargain,’ or the general fiscal absurdity of the Romney/Ryan budgets—is borne out of his crippling obsession with impartiality. More specifically, I’d argue it stems from his instinct to honor ‘Meet the Press’s’ reputation for being ‘tough on both sides’, a trademark the late Tim Russert helped cement. Here, however, the admittedly tame Gregory’s attempts to live up to Russert’s attack-dog style serves him badly.

In Russert’s seventeen years at Meet the Press, Republicans and Democrats feared his acerbic approach equally. But it’s unclear that Russert would have remained equally balanced were he alive today. He never covered a House so radical and a Senate so obstructionist as the current models. He never encountered a Republican Party platform as extreme as this year’s. He never even got to interview Vice-Presidential nominee Sarah Palin, depriving us of the thorough grilling he might have unleashed upon her. In that way, Gregory who’s made it something of a trademark to exchange nuance for balance, has foolishly tried to live up to the Russert model in an era that doesn’t allow for it.

Simon van Zuylen-Wood is a writer for Philadelphia Magazine.


  • Ronald on September 30, 2012 12:48 PM:

    most of the MSM hasn't had a clue as to how to deal with the right derailing themselves.

  • Sheldon on September 30, 2012 12:50 PM:

    I'm afraid you're missing the real reason Gregory didn't follow up as you suggest: He is mediocre, if not incompetent - without the background, experience, or skill set to do an effective job.

  • TCinLA on September 30, 2012 12:59 PM:

    First, Russert was an overrated hack who did his best to serve his corporate masters before the rest of us realized that was going on. I popped a bottle of champagne the day I heard he'd finally become a "good hack." Russert was the main reason I stopped watching these worthless Sunday shows where the corporate assholes who own the media try to make the rest of us believe they care about their "duty to the public." These shows were never anything but corporate PR.

    Second, David Gregory is a brain-dead otherwise-unemployable moron.

  • daveminnj on September 30, 2012 1:00 PM:

    perhaps "toady" is the word you're looking for?

  • c u n d gulag on September 30, 2012 1:06 PM:

    Sorry, but Tim Russert sucked. BAD!!!

    When the Republican Krazies went ballistic the moment Bill Clinton won, and started investigations right after they took their hands off the Bibles on Inauguration Day in 1993, Russert was NOT a voice for sanity.

    When they went nuclear over a blowjob, Timmeh was right there, "Tut-tutting" with the best of them - and only outdone by the hysterical hissy-fit throwing Chris Matthews himself.

    And Timmeh was Cheney's willing stooge in the run-up to the Iraq invasion, and didn't provide any push-back on the occupation and the religious loon's the Cheney-Bush Mis-administration brought it to rebuild what they'd shattered. Oh sure, he asked some tough questions of Rummy, but they were WAAAAY too little and FAAAAR too late.

    He, like much of the nation, seemed to finally wake the feck up to Feckless George and Dastardly Dick after the Katrina response debacle.
    Fat lot of good he did in his endless term on Meet The Republicans.


    At least Timmeh had an excuse - he wasn't a trained journalist. Gregory is - if you call what he did/does journalism.

    This morning he had that foul breath of Hell, that Jesus-grifting scumbag, Ralph Reed, and put him on his panel.

    To what earthly, or heavenly, purpose, would you inflict this festering diseased postule on the anus of humanity and inflict him on "We the People?"
    Why does David Gregory hate America?

  • DJ on September 30, 2012 1:07 PM:

    Russert loved the "gotcha" moment, where he could pull out a quote, or a video, and confront a guest with a seeming contradiction (nuance and circumstances be damned).

    Gregory is merely a megaphone for his guests, lacking the competence to properly question them.

    Rachel Maddow's skill set (including not least of which, her courtesy) would be ideal for the program, but her unabashed liberalism prevents her from even being considered.

  • Davis X. Machina on September 30, 2012 1:07 PM:

    Russert was Exhibit A for Josh Marshall's "Washington is wired for Republicans" thesis.

  • RepubAnon on September 30, 2012 1:08 PM:

    I haven't seen any evidence that Mr. Russert is taking a "pox on both your houses" approach - it seems more like a "why haven't you just caved in to the hyper-partisans' demands so we can comfortably eat our cocktail weenies" approach.

  • Paul Hobbs on September 30, 2012 1:13 PM:

    The decline of journalism accelerated during the Reagan Administration with the advent of "embedded" reporters during the Grenada fiasco. Cronkite was pretty vocal about it, and was practically alone among the talking heads in his protests. By the time of the first Persian Gulf war it was a done deal. The wars just became another show on TV. Gregory is the poster child for the new American version of Yellow Journalism. Who knows? In ten years we might be nostalgic for his work.

  • SadOldVet on September 30, 2012 1:16 PM:

    I enthusiastically endorse the sentiments of TCinLA & c u n d galag.

    I would add that the ONLY good thing about Tweety Matthews is that he seems to thoroughly despice the Vulture/Voucher candidates. Prior to this year, to me Tweety belonged in the category of corporate toad.

  • martin on September 30, 2012 1:18 PM:

    Wow, damn lot of mindreading there. How do you know Dancin' Dave just isn't completely in the Tank for the Repubs?

  • dalloway on September 30, 2012 1:23 PM:

    Agree completely about Maddow, DJ, and that Gregory is either a total fool or in the tank for the GOP.

    But the one who really fries me is Russert's son, L'il Luke Russert, a despicable nepot (as in nepotism) who incessantly parrots the GOP line. There are a lot of talented young journalists out there who could do a million times better, but, like Mittens, he skated in on his pedigree.

  • FlipYrWhig on September 30, 2012 1:30 PM:

    Tim Russert was terrible and his reputation for toughness was all for show -- like Matthews, he coasted on the idea that being overweight with bad hair and a blue-collar background would confer an impression of old-school ink-stained authenticity. They're both hacks.

  • c u n d gulag on September 30, 2012 1:49 PM:

    Please don't get me started on Luke, The Puke.

    There has never, not ever, been someone so inept who's been in his father's position.

    Not even Chris Wallace.

    Luke even makes George W. Bush look like John Quincy Adams.

  • Celui on September 30, 2012 1:54 PM:

    I continue to be VERY unimpressed by most, if not all, the Sunday morning MSM political talk shows. They are just that--a 'show', contrived for providing a stage with a willing moderator who is afraid of pushing a phony idea--a lie--back onto its source. And, I really don't believe that many of these Sunday morning hairdos actually do have a solid, political journalistic background. If they did, if they did their background prep for the discussions that may be coming that day, if they researched their 'guests' points of view, they'd be enough informed to know when their airwaves were being used for nonsense and for political gain. Please, oh please, learn to gauge the veracity of what is being said, by whom, and then just call or write the network's flacks and let'em have it. If we readers can identify self-serving noise when we hear it, surely these 'national faces' can do the same. Actual, real model for responsible journalism: Diane Rehm.

  • cwolf on September 30, 2012 2:09 PM:

    ...live up to Russert...

    WTF is that supposed to mean?
    Even as a Cheerleader for War with whoever Bush had distemper, Russert was an overrated tool.
    Is Gregory trying to be a better Tool ?

    How soon we forget.

  • jjm on September 30, 2012 2:37 PM:

    Well, Gregory did appear at a GOP fundraiser, and unlike Keith Olbermann, did not get fired for it.

    People are sick and tired of the absolute drivel on the Sunday morning shows. Only the MSNBC youngsters like Chris Hayes (who is terrific), Rachel Maddow and the older guys like Lawrence O'Donnell give their viewers what the public actually craves but has been barred from having: SUBSTANCE rather than attitudinizing.

    It's no wonder that MSNBC won the ratings race in covering the two conventions just now, beating Fox.

  • Anonymous on September 30, 2012 2:44 PM:

    Ah so it has come to this. Valuing balance over truth means dodging the fact that Republicans did more than Democrats to block Bowles and Simpson. An honest reporter willing to take the heat would challenge the convetional wisdom that both sides must be about equally to blame for the rejection of the unquestionably excelent Simpson-Bowles proposal.

    Where, in your spectrum, could you possibly fit Paul Krugman ?

    (not to mention me. I don't expect you to mention me, but Kruman has earned the right not to be dismissed without the hint of a trace of any consideration).

  • J on September 30, 2012 2:51 PM:

    Why don't the Sunday morning shows get a little more aggressive about the Ryan budget, every republican voted for it and now they cannot explain it! We were all told that Ryan was the financial genius of the republican party and Romney said he would adopt Ryan's budget as his own, yet neither can explain it! They are going to rely on congress to work out the details, that would go amazingly well.
    I still want to see Mittens tax returns!!!!!

  • James on September 30, 2012 3:00 PM:

    Tim Russert? Please. He was, remember, the White House Iraq Group's -- the propaganda arm of the early bush administrations -- "best venue" to disseminate their message of selling the Iraq War to the public. You must be very very young if you don't remember that Tim Russert was Cheney, Rice and Rumsfeld's tool. And remember how his excuse for not covering the Valerie Plame incident was "I wish someone had caaalllllled me!" Russert's reputation is way way overblown by the media elite. You lose credibility when you speak of him in such glowing terms without acknowledging his enabling role in pushing the bush Iraq War propaganda on the public Sunday after Sunday after Sunday.

    And Dancin Dave, of course he is in the tank for the Republicans. Just look at his guests. You know, Liz Cheney is his neighbor and they grew up together. That's why he keeps inviting her on the show, despite the fact that she has no expertise or any qualification to speak about foreign policy except that her father is the architect of the greatest flimflam blunder in foreign policy in this nation's history -- the Iraq War.

    Dave Gregory has *always* been a dumbass hack, and that's how he got the job of following the somewhat-less-of-a-hack Tim Russert. He is there to carry water for the Republicans, and that's what he does. Look at the data on how skewed the show is towards the GOP POV. It's compelling and undeniable.

    Sheesh. What kind of water are you drinking that you don't know, or don't acknowledge, any of this to an audience who actually knows what you are talking about? That beltway Koolaid must be mighty tasty.

  • Equal Opportunity Cynic on September 30, 2012 3:16 PM:

    I disagree with Simon a bit, in that I don't see "tough on both sides" as inherently bad, no matter how kooky one of the sides. You ask them both hard questions, get the facts on the table, and hope your viewers are intelligent enough to see who's sane and who isn't.

    Tough on both sides would continue asking Christie follow ups about Ryan. Then later, it might ask a Democrat why Obama didn't support S-B, and the Democrat might give Simon's explanation, which people could find convincing or not convincing.

    I'm with Sheldon in comment #2 (although I don't watch the show): It sounds like Gregory just isn't informed enough to ask really tough questions.

  • angler on September 30, 2012 4:00 PM:

    No need to keep piling on, but amen to Tim Russert as the epitome of the false equivalency posture (both sides do it) trying to mask a rightward lean.

  • schtick on September 30, 2012 4:16 PM:

    At least Russert, once in a while, called them on their lies with video tapes or quotes they made. I actually liked seeing them squirm. Gregory is lousy at his job with no follow up ever, but good in the eyes of his teapub friends. They both were/are employed by the teapub media and I expect exactly what they deliver/delivered. After Watergate, we're never going to see any investigative journalism again. In case you haven't noticed, since then, anything involving teapubs gets pushed aside and everything that is nothing involving dems gets front page. It's called PROJECTION.
    As far as Matthews, it always annoyed me when he cut people off before they began to answer a question. Of course, with some of the elected jerks saying everything except the subject matter, I appreciated it when he tried to keep them on subject.
    The one thing that angered me and made me quit watching him was when he was on his Hillary vendetta. I don't care what subject was being talked about, before he stopped the interview, he'd giggle and then bring up Hillary the 'demon', the 'she-demon', the 'devil', the 'she-devil', the 'witch' and she wasn't even in the conversation to begin with.
    It got very old very fast with me and if I wanted to hear grown men call people silly names, I'd watch Faux. And yes, I fired off a few emails to MSNBC about it.

  • biggerbox on September 30, 2012 4:18 PM:

    Why didn't Obama adopt the Simpson-Bowles plan?

    Maybe because the Simpson-Bowles commission itself didn't adopt the Simpson-Bowles plan? The final report fell short of the required number of votes to be adopted.

    I realize that it's convenient for the Grand Bargainers in DC to have us all forget it, but they couldn't even get the required number of hand-picked DC insiders, given the mission to create a plan they could all agree to, to agree to that plan.

    It had absolutely no chance politically outside the Beltway, and barely any within. It's only because it's become handy as a way to bash Obama that anyone in the GOP cares about it.

    It's absurd. Christy might as well be asking why Obama rejected having porcupine quills and granite dust for breakfast.

  • Jim, Foolish Literalist on September 30, 2012 4:35 PM:

    When they went nuclear over a blowjob, Timmeh was right there, "Tut-tutting" with the best of them - and only outdone by the hysterical hissy-fit throwing Chris Matthews himself.
    Which is why it cracks me up to see Tweety as the head of the Bubba Fan Club, and leading the "Bill Clinton saved Obama!" parade.

    Joe Klein revealed in his farewell tribute to his buddy Tim that Russert went to his grave maintaining that the Blowjobs were worse than the Iraq War. Because. He was the high priest of the Baby-Boomers-With-Daddy-and-Vietnam-Isssues Cult of John McCain. Others have pointed out that he was the Cheney wing's preferred patsy, but I don't think anyone has mentioned his response to Bill Moyers' challenge wrt Russert's lack of skepticism with Admin/Pentagon sources in the run up to Iraq: "I'm from Buffalo!". He created a silly myth of himself as a tough-talkin' blue-collar guy, and believed in it passionately even as he became a Vineyard-summering Georgetown socialite.

  • cwolf on September 30, 2012 4:42 PM:

    In Russertís seventeen years at Meet the Press, Republicans and Democrats feared his acerbic approach equally. But itís unclear that Russert would have remained equally balanced were he alive today.

    This is so bad I can only ascribe it to the likelyhood that Simon van Zuylen-Wood slamed the Kool-Aid instead of mixing it with water and simply imbibing.

    ...and bet they "feared his acerbic approach" to assuming everything is off the record unless the interviewed wanted Timmy to be the messenger boy cheerleading on some Bush war on Iraq or the citizens of the US.

    What rot.

  • Eric Riback on September 30, 2012 5:52 PM:

    Instead of being tough on both sides, Gregory is weak on both sides. Might as well put Larry King in that chair.

  • SadOldVet on September 30, 2012 6:37 PM:

    David Gregory Misquotes Obama, Falsely Claims President Said ĎAl Qaeda Has Been Defeatedí


    What a worthless @sshole!

  • Thrackazoggg on September 30, 2012 7:19 PM:

    Can we stop canonizing people just because they're dead? There's nothing to indicate Russert wouldn't have played along same as every other hack journalist. Let's stop pretending that this GOP is any different than the GOP of 8 years ago. They are the same...this is just logical conclusion of their ideology.

  • bluestatedon on September 30, 2012 7:47 PM:

    For the life of me I've never been able to figure out just why in hell so many Villagers considered the preening gasbag Tim Russert to be such an epochal figure in American broadcast "journalism."

  • beejeez on September 30, 2012 8:57 PM:

    What a pleasure to read an almost unanimous verdict on Russert's bullshit bluster. I was beginning to wonder if I was the only one when everybody was getting misty about his death.

  • exlibra on September 30, 2012 11:07 PM:

    biggerbox on September 30, 2012 4:18 PM:

    Why didn't Obama adopt the Simpson-Bowles plan?

    Maybe because the Simpson-Bowles commission itself didn't adopt the Simpson-Bowles plan? The final report fell short of the required number of votes to be adopted.

    THANK YOU, biggerbox! I was beginning to think that I must have been hallucinating/ hearing voices in my head, when my memory kept coming up with the same answer. It's good to hear that someone else remembers it the same way.

  • DJ on October 01, 2012 2:25 AM:

    like Matthews, he coasted on the idea that being overweight with bad hair and a blue-collar background would confer an impression of old-school ink-stained authenticity

    Russert at least had a blue collar background (as he never tired of pointing out). Matthews, IIRC, comes from a Main Line (well-to-do Philly suburbs) background.

    " I was beginning to wonder if I was the only one when everybody was getting misty about his death."

    Let's be clear here. I don't think anybody was happy that Russert died. It was unexpected, and he left behind a wife, family, and a large circle of friends. What rankles most thinking people was lumping him in with real journalistic titans such as Murrow, Cronkite, Brinkley, etc. Hell, I remember the days of MTP with Lawrence Spivak and Bill Campbell -- when real journalists asked real, tough questions of the guests.