There have been many big mistakes in the news biz that didn’t seem as big when they first took place. Here’s one: the seemingly dismissive and contemptous attitude early on by many newspaper bigwigs about the Internet — Internet websites as somehow never being real competition to holding a paper in your hand (just like Hollywood bigwigs once felt “the talkies” sound movies would never last) and that bloggers were pajamas-clad people who couldn’t be taken seriously since they don’t have to jump through corporate hoops to get articles and opinion pieces published but can merely press a key on their computers.
Now, here’s another one: NBC’s David Gregory declining requests to fact check “Meet the Press” guests after the show — an issue framed succinctly by Jay Rosen. In this age of increased scrutiny of the media due to not just blogs but Twitter and even an excellent media news story agreggator, Gregory seems quaintly cemented in early 20th century attitudes towards how the media operates, its constant high-stakes battle to maintain credibility as fact-based journalism is under fire, and perceptions of a journalist’s role and attitude towards an audience and critics.
The issue arose after Rosen — the journalism-prof-turned-media-blogger who writes both meaty posts and meaty Tweets — made the suggestion due to comments Gregory made defending how the interview show is run when facts presented by interview subjects later on prove to be not facts at all and just hang out there uncorrected. Rosen raised the issue with a Meet the Press bigwig on Twitter and got no response — but the idea was picked by Gregory’s competitor, ABC’s Jake Trapper — who took the idea and ran with it. Gregory has now since indicated that, no, he doesn’t feel it’s really his responsibility to run fact check corrections after the fact and suggested he really doesn’t have to if he doesn’t want to.
Here’s how Rosen begins his post which must be read in full:
David Gregory, the host of NBC’s Meet the Press, has painted himself into a strange corner with his assertion that there’s no need to fact check what his guests say on the air because viewers can do that “on their own terms.” His competitor, Jake Tapper of ABC News, disagrees. Tapper has instituted the after-the-show fact check on This Week. I am a participant in the story of how this happened, as you can see from the time line I have constructed.
Go to the link to read the timeline. But here is how Rosen ends his post:
Interpretation: So… what is going on here? As with his defiant claims that the press did well in questioning the Bush Administration’s case for war, David Gregory believe he always and already asks the questions necessary to get at the truth. (So what’s your problem?) If the truth does not emerge from his interviews, it’s not his fault because he–always and already–asks the tough questions. That’s who he is. It’s in his DNA. The criticism he gets is therefore partisan chatter. Or it comes from people who want him to go beyond asking the tough questions to the point of conclusion: that man is lying.
David Gregory thinks that is not his role.
I see two other possibilities for his refusal to adopt the fact check: one banal, the other more troubling. The banal: He’s too proud to adopt something that a competitor picked up on first; it would look like a “me too” response and he is the market leader, first in the ratings and heir to the chair that Tim Russert held. The more disturbing possibility is that he thinks Tapper’s policy may give Meet the Press a competitive edge in booking guests who won’t want to be checked so vigorously. (As opposed to competing with an even better fact check, which would probably cause Bon Schieffer at Face the Nation to adopt the same policy, forcing the guests to accept the new rules or flee to cable, which has a fraction of the viewers.)
Look at it this way: the Washington politician who’s been on Meet the Press more than any other is John McCain. On April 6, Politifact’s truth-o-meter rated McCain a pants-on-fire liar for claiming that he never called himself a maverick. See what I mean?
Indeed, McCain’s appearances have become essentially p.r. appearances. The pattern is seemingly always the same: McCain goes on, he gets a question, answers it, may get a challenging question, answers it and the answer he gives becomes almost a pro forma ritual. News reports and video clips then make their way onto the Internet and talk shows — and if McCain has been inaccurate it emerges later on via the Internet, sometimes on highly partisan news sites. Strangely, McCain’s MtP many many appearances are also hyped in advance.
It’s like announcing breathlessly that a TV station will show a Seinfeld re-run.
When a news source JUST LOVES to be interviewed by a certain reporter or show it indicates that he doesn’t have to work too hard to prepare to be challenged — only needs to have talking points down pat.
It wasn’t too long ago when the media carried stories about how guests who appeared on Tim Russert’s show had to prepare heavily for it and in many ways to them it was like having to go in for a major operation: you had to do it but you hated to do it but it had to be done. Or, it was like cramming for a final exam that you had to pass or you’d flunk out of school
But the larger issue is Rosen’s point about what this means to Gregory and attitudes towards what a major news infooutlet needs to do in the early 21st century.
If ABC gets the reputation of a better home for accuracy, Meet the Press may get the reputation of being Snow the Press or Promote the Interview Subject — a legacy that Tim Russert most assuredly would not have wanted or allowed.
Gregory is in danger of becoming to NBC what Dan Rather became to CBS: a good, journeyman journalist who didn’t quite fill the big shoes of the giant he replaced.
If Gregory maintaints this attitude, he could even muddy those shoes.
SOME OTHER OPINIONS:
As much as I don’t like morning shows, I would watch them if I felt there was a sufficiently high level of knocking down of [BS]. I don’t know whether or not what ABC is doing with “This Week” will constitute a sufficiently high level. But if it looks like it does, I will start watching.
And I will certainly never watch “Meet the Press” as long as Dancin’ Dave is hosting.
—The Agonist’s Sean Paul Kelley
Earlier this week I tried to engage Professor Rosen and Gregory on Twitter, when Gregory said, “Look, I don’t think it’s fair to suggest I’m opposed to fact checking or accountability or real journalism for that matter. My view is that I just don’t think we need a formal arrangement to accomplish that goal.” This was after Rosen dug into him harder about having a fact check session on Meet The Press, when ABC’s Jake Tapper has instituted one. My reply to Gregory was, “Sure, no formal arrangement needed, just like self-policing of financial firms. How’d that work out Dave?”
The bottom line is, he is unwilling. All he has offered are excuses.
Fact checking is just good journalism–and good blogging, as this place wouldn’t be what it is without the constant challenges I get–and his intransigence on the issue is, to be generous, disconcerting.
Now you can follow Joe Gandelman on Twitter.
UPDATE: Reader feedback on this post;
–Reader “Opinionated Gift” writes:
Meet The Press and This Week have long been places that amount to little more than PR opportunities.
Tim Russert made Meet The Press into The Dick Cheney Hour for months in the build up to war.
What is particularly galling though is David Gregory’s childish, lazy and petulant resistance to fact checking, something the press ought to be doing in the first place without having to have it offered to them.
It should come as no surprise though, this is the same guy who danced happily while Karl Rove and a bunch of other rich white guys Rapped about how successful and masterful Rove was.
Gregory is not a journalist of particular integrity, if any. He asks generally inane questions and I cannot remember ever watching him try a follow up question based on anything other than his prepared list as opposed to what has been said in the moment.
Meet The Press has been off my radar for a long time now. It will remain so. This Week however, with fact check and the pending arrival of Christianne Amanpour (sp?) is back on it.
MORE READER FEEDBACK:
Mr. Gregory is absolutely right, I can fact-check the views of his guests for myself online. For that matter, I can research the views, opinions, and actions of his guests for myself online. Furthermore I can research the facts counter to his guest for myself online. …. Wait, why was I watching Mr. Gregory on television again ?
Reader’s opinions are their own and not necessarily those of TMV. Due to time constraints and Internet factors, all reader feedback may not appear on TMV. Some will appear under specific posts, others in a separate post.
Joe Gandelman is a former fulltime journalist who freelanced in India, Spain, Bangladesh and Cypress writing for publications such as the Christian Science Monitor and Newsweek. He also did radio reports from Madrid for NPR’s All Things Considered. He has worked on two U.S. newspapers and quit the news biz in 1990 to go into entertainment. He also has written for The Week and several online publications, did a column for Cagle Cartoons Syndicate and has appeared on CNN.