Upon reading Mickey Kaus'recent quip about the particular quality of David Gregory's dullness—"Gregory seems not straightforwardly dull, but somehow goofily hollow"—I flinched twice, first at the cruelty of the verdict, then at the keenness of the perception.
With Gregory now on the job as the moderator of Meet the Press (NBC), the status quo is in good hands. As a White House correspondent, Gregory had a way of confronting the president and his mouthpieces that was sometimes the welcome yap of a tough watchdog but more often the toot-toot of a showboat practicing the pure art of careerism. It feels unfair to say that Gregory is without substance, and yet I'm certain that I watched him host MSNBC's Race for the White House at least twice a week during the election season and just as certain that I remember nothing of the program beyond the punch of the graphics and the pep of the tempo.
Then there is the matter of Gregory's most notorious performance, grooving on stage with Karl Rove at the Radio and Television Correspondents' Dinner in 2007. Set aside, if you can, the matter of form—of his dancing like a black stand-up comic's idea of a white guy dancing. Here, Gregory boppingly embodied the coziness of the political class. Hips don't lie—he's delighted to be in the club. Last week, when Tom Brokaw formally announced that the 38-year-old was taking over a show that we're obliged to acknowledge as an institution, Gregory panted with humility while never managing to extinguish the self-regard that animates his on-air presence. This aspect stands in contrast with the projected warmth of his predecessor, the late Tim Russert. It probably makes no difference to the show's content, but the new face of Meet the Press wears a contented smirk.
Yesterday, the theme music marched and toodled—it's that automatically stirring John Williams stuff, a score for a floor debate in the Galactic Senate—and Gregory teased the topics: the blockbuster venality of Milorad Blagojevich and the fabulous health of the U.S. economy. In the first segment, the guests were Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan, who should obviously be played by Demi Moore if the Blago farce makes it to the big screen, and Lieutenant Gov. Pat Quinn, whom Alan Arkin might do a good job with. Gregory would cameo as himself in the film and eat up every minute of it.
The questions were perfectly fine. The pace was imperfectly brisk, with Gregory tumbling through his lines at a jarring velocity. For his first flourish of interrogative aggression, he pressed Madigan, who is asking the courts to declare Blagojevich unfit to serve, on her own ambitions. "Would you like to be the senator from Illinois? ... If you were offered it, would you take it?" She brushed these aside, and Gregory said, "Alright." Well, you gotta ask. For a further hit of Blago, Gregory then turned to the day's small panel, which included Chuck Todd, the sharp NBC analyst who gained a notable cult following during the primary season. (Some of us had rooted for Todd to assume the MTP gig, but that was an impossible dream. His demonstrated lack of polish as an anchor would disqualify him from the job even if his goatee didn't lower his stock as an authority figure on a major network.)
Dispensing withBlagojevich in an efficient 20 minutes, Gregory turned to the economy in general and the auto industry in particular. He launched questions at a group including some captains of industry, Gov. Jennifer Granholm of Michigan, and Mitt Romney, and again the questions were perfectly fine, except at those points where they didn't exist. At one moment, the Romney-bot emitted some talking points about the hourly costs of making a car in Detroit, and Granholm, rejecting this as sophistry, turned in her seat to gawp in astonishment. The transcript, please:
ROMNEY: Labor costs, labor costs, legacy costs—labor costs and legacy costs and benefits are $73 an hour.
GOV. GRANHOLM: That's not accurate.
MR. GREGORY: This part of the debate's going to go on.
Not on this show, it isn't. Is it naive to think that this was where the moderator should have stepped in and attempted to achieve some clarity? Oh, probably. Toot-toot.