For some odd reason, Villagers seem to be having a nostalgia attack over Tim Russert's untimely demise this week. The Washington Post had a column about David Gregory's
shrink brand consultant which appears to be triggering a lot of thumb-twiddling about whether these shows are dead, with Politico getting in on the act Tuesday.
Political veterans, congressional aides, former administration officials and longtime journalists all attested to the Sunday shows’ decline. The programs are no longer the agenda-setting platforms of days past, they said. Instead, the broadcasts have become a venue for lawmakers to push familiar talking points and for talking heads to exchange conventional wisdom. Occasionally there is an interview or discussion that will make headlines — Vice President Joe Biden’s endorsement of gay marriage, which preceded President Barack Obama’s own announcement, comes to mind. But that has become the exception rather than the rule.
Not surprisingly, the few who adamantly insist that the programs are relevant are the hosts and producers.
“I do not agree that ‘Meet the Press’ is not what it has always been, which is a driver of the conversation,” said David Gregory, the current host, echoing remarks made by ABC’s George Stephanopoulos and CBS’s Bob Schieffer. “Administration figures, politicians and candidates come to ‘Meet the Press’ because they know what ‘Meet the Press’ represents.”
They're not wrong about that. The problem with the Sunday shows isn't that they exist; it's that they've been allowed to exist as an echo chamber with no real challenge to whatever politicians say. That isn't a "Tim Russert died" problem. That's a corporate news problem. Why challenge the politicians when they're paying the bills and keeping the lights on, after all?
One look at the mega-millions spent on political advertising should explain why these networks don't really work very hard to shape the news around facts, choosing instead to allow politicians to spew their scripts with very little in the way of fact-checking or editorial reins.
Politico's diagnosis is death. I think they're on life support, but could be relevant and revived. It would take some work, though.
David Gregory is the Meet the Press problem. He consistently frames questions in conservative terms rather than neutral terms. He allows guests to get away with amazing and unchallenged statements, perhaps because NBC has made a decision not to function as fact-checkers but still call their shows news. Seriously, comparing the Healthcare.gov rollout to the Iraq war? Or just this last week, when he and Senator Corker were playing the swinging dick role to bully Putin? That does no one any good.
Or maybe it's his complete lack of self-awareness? He could just read our articles and get a clue as to what the problem is, but instead he says "'If I could figure out why certain perceptions existed, I wouldn’t have time to do my job.'"
Nay, nay, Mr. Gregory. You should definitely figure out why certain perceptions exist so you CAN do your job.
A change of hosts across every show, some more diversity in the lineup, and some actual journalism would go a long way toward fixing all of the Sunday shows.
That the Obama administration has been less proactive on Sundays may be a unique feature of this White House — “this president hasn’t made great use of his Cabinet,” the former White House official said — but it is also a byproduct of the new media environment. Obama’s team has always put a premium on direct-to-voter messaging and, when it does do national media, often favors going outside the Beltway.
And who could blame him, when Sunday hosts are predictably stupid about how they frame the President and his policies?
This is the heart of the matter:
The hosts’ inability to move their guests past the rehearsed talking points does not help them in this effort [to drive the conversation].
“I think the biggest change over the years is that many politicians now come to the show with talking points rather than real answers. They come to avoid making news rather than making news,” said Dan Balz, the veteran Washington Post political correspondent.
There are people out there who would take this task and do it well. GSteph and Gregory are not them. Schieffer is a little better, but not much.
The Sunday show problem is one that can only be solved when networks decide they care more about news than revenues, which will be never. So maybe they are dead after all.