Blacklisting these usual guests from the Meet the Press round table and recruiting a younger band of participants would mark the passing of an era and acknowledge the arrival of a young president. It's not even a very radical step. Russert was known to experiment with formula, adding Matt Drudge and Rush Limbaugh to the mix. So it's not too much to ask some new voices to suit up for play. The office politics of such a move will be tricky. Betsy Fischer, Russert's executive producer, is Gregory's executive producer. It would be a pity if she insisted on turning the show into a permanent memorial service for her old boss.
For starters, I'd have the Gregorized Meet the Press Rolodex add Jeff Zeleny of the New York Times,who had a great run covering the Obama campaign. Nobody knows more about the next president and is more resistant to his charms than Lynn Sweet of the Chicago Sun-Times. Helene Cooper, who just moved over to the New York Times' White House beat, is a fine reporter. As resident progressive egghead, sign up Thomas Frank, who now writes a weekly column for the Wall Street Journal. Add George Mason University economic professor Tyler Cowen, a regular New YorkTimes contributor, as counterweight. Also allow me to put in a good word for two of my Washington Post Co. colleagues: Washington Post editorial writer and columnist Ruth A. Marcus files consistently excellent op-eds these days, and Terence Samuel, deputy editor of The Root, who also writes for the American Prospect. Samuel commands an original, wicked mind.Next step:
Invent a great gimmick. Russert had a dozen gimmicks. He had the flip-flop graphic. He had Buffalo. The Bills. His blue collar. The whiteboard. His dad. Gregory needs a similar signature, and I've got just the thing. Good politicians are evasion artists, able to field a difficult question without answering it and making it sound as though they did. When confronted with such maneuvers, Gregory could pursue his prey with three follow-up questions. If the politician didn't answer satisfactorily, Gregory could give his best grin and say, "Senator, that's three and you're out" and move on to the next question. If deployed artfully, "That's three and you're out" could become the most feared phrase in political reporting and just maybe it could get politicians to respond truthfully. After that:
Add a reported segment. Every Sunday talk show tries to generate news for the Monday newspapers by prodding a politician to say something interesting. The politicians know this, so the smarter ones know well enough to drop a bomb or bomblet and frag for the moderator. Instead of relying on guests for news, a Sunday show could break the mold by filing a reported story that makes news. (The lack of reported news stories on the Sunday show is one of economics. Reported stories are about 10 times more expensive to produce than studio chatter.) Lacking the budget or gumption to break news, Gregory's show could at least broadcast a reported segment that put into context the top story that everybody was about to discuss. It's not a revolutionary idea: Jack Smith used to file Sunday stories for This Week With David Brinkley. Finally:
Get out of the office and stay out of the office. As Washington bureau chief for NBC News, Russert could sponge up details and tips from his reporters. I'd have Gregory, who isn't bureau chief (and shouldn't be), walk the political beat all week in preparation for his show and not let his Today assignments get in the way of his real work. If he runs the show more like a reporter and less like a Washington institution, he'll already have a leg up on Russert.
Perhaps I overdosed on the political talk shows when watching them was part of my job description. Send diagnoses to firstname.lastname@example.org. (E-mail may be quoted by name in "The Fray," Slate's readers' forum; in a future article; or elsewhere unless the writer stipulates otherwise. Permanent disclosure: Slate is owned by the Washington Post Co.)