When Tim Russert died suddenly in 2008 it can be said with almost certainty that he took the soul and integrity of a once revered profession with him. Russert was by no means a non partisan (He was Chief of Staff for Senator?Patrick Moynihan) and was as swept up in Obamamania as anyone else in the media shortly before his death, but he knew that both sides play the game. Tim Russert would never have allowed himself to be seen dancing on a stage next to a one hit pop wonder.
It appears Russert took the smart way out.
When Deborah Turness, a respected British news producer known for mainstream tabloid style editing, took over NBC News from Steve Capus (who was personally named in George Zimmerman’s lawsuit against NBC) in August of 2013, it was a clear signal that the old way of slanting news narratives was giving way to a new social way of slanting news narratives. Turness’ job at NBC News hasn’t been about getting facts to viewers as fast and as accurate as possible and presenting equal parts of arguments as it has been to tap into trending and entertaining narratives on Twitter and social media outlets. Carson Daily joining The Today Show was not a decision made because of his hard hitting interviews with members of the Backstreet Boys.
So it should not to as a surprise to anyone when this past Sunday, Meet the Press and David Gregory chose to spend over half of their air time (33 minutes) on the George Washington Bridge closure scandal swirling around Chris Christie.
Before digging into the why’s of this, let’s revisit what else happened last week:
– Robert Gates, Defense secretary to both George Bush and Barack Obama released a memoir where he blisters (and compliments) the current President’s leadership style, in particular as it relates to the war in Afghanistan. The biggest revelation released to the public however was that Hillary Clinton admitted in front of Gates and Obama that she opposed the Iraq troop surge strictly as political maneuvering for her Presidential campaign. Not only is Hillary Clinton the presumptive 2016 favorite nominee for the Democrats, NBC just happened to approve a dramatic mini-series of her starring Diane Lane, which has since been cancelled thanks to pressure from the RNC. The due diligence on Robert Gates fell to expert news man Matt Lauer. He didn’t disappoint.
– The Iraqi city of Fallujah fell under Al Qaeda control after three days of fighting. American troops fought and died for Fallujah for years during the height of combat operations and just barely two years after the Obama administration ordered a hasty exit, a symbolic city of US victory in Iraq is gone. Mission accomplished.
– Thursday the monthly jobs report was released and shows the US economy actually fared worse in 2013 than it did in 2012. Things are not getting better. US workforce participation is at the lowest it’s been since 1978 (1977 for African Americans), the Jimmy Carter years. On top of this news Obama announced he’s creating Cannibalism Circles..er… Economic Promise Zones to promote growth. Because nothing says a recovering economy like zoning things off.
The response from NBC would naturally be that covering Chris Christie’s bridge scandal and not X Y Z issues viewers on the right want covered does not prove an ideological bias and they would be right.
It does however prove incompetence and desperation.
Chuck Todd can attempt to separate the reputation of ?NBC News from the failing idological pranks of MSNBC all he wants (reminder that Todd is both the NBC News White House correspondent as well as MSNBC show host) but the entire reason Meet The Press donated half of their air time to the Chris Christie bridge scandal is because of the ratings it got on MSNBC.
Meet The Press would rather cater itself to a small minority of influential thought leaders inside the DC beltway rather than attempt to appeal to a wider audience more concerned about their job, healthcare and safety. This is not the model successful television programming production follows. It is however the model producers follow if they are trying to reach a very specific audience.
It’s also not working.
This is the new model of network news in a world where only 27% of people polled actually know who Brian Williams is.
Perhaps he simply needs to work on his dance moves.
Meet The Press has slumped to last place in weekly ratings and experienced the lowest ratings in it’s 21 year history at the end of 2013. This is a clear message being sent to David Gregory and his producers that his ideological positions mixed in with cheap stunts aren’t attractive to a Sunday morning audience. Ten years ago the very idea of Al Sharpton offering thoughtful and expert analysis on anything would be laughed at by major networks and professional career newsmen. Now he’s a regular at Gregory’s round table and has prime time slot to scream at a cameraman who clearly isn’t paid enough.
But anyone who thinks that David Gregory is the problem with Meet the Press or NBC hasn’t been paying attention to network news programming since November 8th, 2008. Personalities don’t drive the agenda forward. Meet the Press could replace Gregory tomorrow with Ronan Farrow and illegal gun clips would still be flying in the faces of their invited guests. It would not matter. Those kinds of stunts will continue. The narrative will continue. Chris Christie yelled a teacher once at a town hall = Bully. It’s as simple as that. Chris Christie’s aides shut down lanes of traffic on a bridge. Now Chris Christie is a corrupt Bully. It doesn’t matter whose mouth these lines come out of at NBC News.
That narrative according to NBC happens to be Chris Christie and it will be for the near future because it’s going to be what their audience wants. The audience that regularly tunes in to be screamed at on a nightly basis sees polls where Chris Christie is the only person leading Hillary Clinton in premature 2016 polls. Christie needs to be kneecapped. The audience wants blood. NBC News obliges. NBC can oblige because they think a reputation seamlessly exists in a world where their logo and zip code are ingrained in the popular consciousness of America regardless of political ideology. Saturday Night Live, as unfunny as it has become, still has the power to affect social media conversations and Twitter trends even though it’s become little more than just another advertising tool for other stars with NBC shows. Tina Fey saw Russia from her house.
This is no longer about delivering news and asking hard questions of members of both political parties. This is about scoring points for the team and the team is progressive ideology. Career journalism professionals have been replaced by policy advocates (see MSNBC’s entire prime time lineup). It would have been unheard of for a news organization 20 years ago to not pressure a former Secretary of State and prospective Presidential candidate to release a statement on career damaging accusations from a respected expert like Robert Gates. But questions that surround Hillary Clinton regarding such affairs like ignoring security requests for the Benghazi consulate or ignoring reports of rampant sexual assaults?will be left to actresses like Diane Lane in an opening monologue of a comedy variety show.
The reason the lane closures on the George Washington Bridge, an act while childish broke no laws, matters to NBC News and others is because Chris Christie’s 2016 prospects matter to them but not many other people, at least not for now. He is their chosen candidate of the moment. He has been since he emerged as one of the few Republican victors during the elections last year. That is why David Gregory and his producers spent 33 minutes of his weekly time slot hyperventilating.
Chris Christie’s Presidential campaign doesn’t much matter right now to people losing their health insurance.
Chris Christie closing a couple lanes of traffic doesn’t matter much to people who have gone 2+ years without a job.
This is the precisely the reason people have tuned out Meet The Press.?People turn on TV to watch programs that interest them.. Not programs that exist solely to interest the people that are producing them.
Chris Christie addressed the scandal with the GWB, he fired those involved and atoned for it in the opening of his State of the State address. Unless further emails are released addressed directly to him with his knowledge, this scandal is over. That won’t stop Gregory, Williams or Todd from being whipped into submission by a Boss more suited for the E! Network to report a narrative that people simply don’t care about.
NBC and Meet The Press will no doubt continue their Christie Bridgegate political autopsy with such noted and respected journalists like David Axelrod and Robert Gibbs weighing in on what this all means for Republicans for as long as they can, salivating that he finds himself standing across from Hillary Clinton on a debate stage while Maddow screams “He’s bullying her!” into a hot mic.?Chris Christie, political bully and GOP front runner 2016 shut down 3 lanes of traffic.
Barack Obama shut down the Atlantic Ocean
– SM –