David Gregory has settled in as the new host of NBC's Meet the Press, Sunday's most-watched public affairs program. As the Obama administration takes charge, Gregory talks to B&C Programming Editor Marisa Guthrie about the Washington press corps' Obama honeymoon and the administration's transparency pledge.
I saw you grilling Rahm Emanuel about Timothy Geithner's tax problems on Meet the Press. How are you adjusting to the job?
I am absolutely loving it. This is an important time for testing and challenging them, especially when there are such huge issues, namely the economy.
Do you ever feel that no matter how smart the question is or how well you follow it up, that Tim Russert had built-in advantages because Russert worked in the political sphere?
I don't agree with your premise that his credibility in the chair was about the fact that he worked in politics. His credibility was [due] to his work as a journalist and somebody who held people accountable. The fact that he worked in politics was an extra qualification. There are a lot of reasons to feel daunted succeeding Tim Russert. I don't feel daunted because I never worked in politics.
How has the Obama administration handled the Washington press corps so far?
I think there's actually a lot they've tried to learn from the Bush team with regard to managing the press and being very disciplined. The Bush approach was to see the press as a special interest, in some ways to be dismissed. The Obama team would like to have a measure of control over the press and a little bit of distance.
Critics say coverage of Obama has been rather adoring. How long do honeymoon periods last?
I went through that with the Bush administration where there was a period where people thought the press went too light with him. There is a period where the press is going to give [Obama] some room to get to do what he says he's going to do. And then there's time to match that up with the reality of the record. This is a period of chronicling.
And look, the press is also fairly capturing a lot of the excitement about this president, about the mood of the country toward him.
The administration was accused of selling the exclusive rights to Barack and Michelle's Inaugural dance to ABC News. To many, I think it flew in the face of the administration's pledge of transparency and openness. Do you think they could have possibly painted themselves into a corner?
They may be more transparent about how government money gets spent. There may be more of an effort to grant FOI [Freedom of Information] requests. But in terms of how they operate internally, their strategic thinking, I don't think they're going to be much different than any other administration. There are things they're going to try to keep under wraps; there are things we're going to try to shove out into the open. That's the tension between the press and the White House. We'll find out what their transparency really means.
Do you think the "in the tank" criticism that was leveled at MSNBC was fair? And do you think the image of the network has been resuscitated post-election?
We have opinionated people on MSNBC in that role in primetime. I don't think that is a systemic point of view. NBC News as an organization is not influenced by those passionate, opinionated people that we have on the air. Generally speaking people try to ascribe motives to particularly the political press. They reach these judgments through their own ideological prism. We're doing what we need to do.
As a reporter, how do you feel about the problems the print press is facing and the massive downsizing there? Do you think it's dangerous to potentially lose an entire crop of veteran print reporters?
It's unfortunate, there's no question. I certainly hate to see the difficulties that newspapers are having. We do need as many eyes and as many journalists as we can have. We're all in a position where we need to get creative as institutions and as businesses in terms of reaching our audiences and fulfilling our mission of keeping government accountable. I definitely worry about that. We need to be creative and find ways to survive in this financial environment and fulfill that mission.
How do you think it will shake out?
Web content is going to become increasingly important. We just have to prove thoughtful enough and adaptable enough to reach our audience in all the various places where it is. If we're just creative about it, we can find new ways to distribute what we do. That's the constant challenge.