Ben Terris (c) 2014, The Washington Post.
People can finally stop speculating about “Meet the Press.” NBC News President Deborah Turness announced that David Gregory, who has been hosting for almost six years, will leave the network and that Chuck Todd will replace him as moderator beginning Sept. 7. Andrea Mitchell will serve as moderator of “Meet the Press” this weekend.
“I leave NBC as I came — humbled and grateful. I love journalism and serving as moderator of MTP was the highest honor there is,” Gregory Tweeted.
Gregory took over in December 2008, after Tim Russert’s death in June of that year, and has presided over a significant drop in ratings.
For weeks, there were rumors that NBC would dump Gregory, and this week, Politico’s Mike Allen reported that Todd would be the “likely successor.” CNN’s Brian Stelter first reported Thursday that Todd would take over at “Meet the Press.”
For NBC, the hope is to return the program to at least a semblance of its standing in Russert’s glory days, when the show consistently clocked in atop the Sunday-talk show ratings. Fans of Todd say that’s what NBC will be getting from the new host.
“They share the same boyish enthusiasm for politics and Washington and the process for it all,” says Amy Walter, who replaced Todd when he left the Hotline (she says that Russert hand-picked Todd to go over to NBC). “He’s critical without being cynical. He doesn’t give politicians a pass but isn’t disdainful of them.”
It’s the go-to compliment for Todd. He’s from politics the way Russert was (both worked for politicians before becoming journalists). At the same time, it’s a twist of the knife for Gregory, who during his time at “Meet the Press” earned the reputation of not being greatly interested in politics and policy. NBC officials were even throwing around the term “the David Gregory Problem,” and when Politico reported on his imminent departure, Dylan Byers didn’t beat around the bush: “He was widely disliked within the organization and his ambition and vanity rubbed important colleagues at NBC the wrong way.”
In an email to NBC News staff, Turness said Todd will continue in his role as NBC News’ political director and will “hand over his roles” as chief White House correspondent and anchor of MSNBC’s “The Daily Rundown.”
Todd came to Washington from Miami as an undergraduate at George Washington University and landed a job in 1992 at National Journal’s Hotline. He worked for the morning tip sheet until 2007. For six of those years he was the editor in chief.
“He was a force of nature from day one,” says Craig Crawford, who was the Hotline editor when Todd started. “He was so deep into politics that he was as enthusiastic about city council elections as presidential campaigns. He had to compromise just to keep the Hotline from being 300 pages every day.”
This is why Todd is known around town as a “political junkie” and as someone who loves the game. He certainly caught the eye of David Bradley, the millionaire owner of the Atlantic, the parent company of the Hotline. Bradley, a “self-abashed Chuck fan,” emailed in this story to prove it: “If you use this, please note that this is not my everyday schedule,” he writes. “My wife and I were headed off for a small dinner honoring the King of Jordan. I dropped in on Chuck to ask him to talk me through the smartest thinking on the presidential election — of 2004. I took a few notes, repeated them at dinner, and proved to be more brilliant than, in fact, I am.”
Wonks are in these days. When it comes to politics, Todd is the geek-in-chief.
“There is no one with a bigger passion for politics than Chuck,” Turness said in her email. “His unique ability to deliver that passion with razor sharp analysis and infectious enthusiasm makes him the perfect next generation moderator of this beloved broadcast.”
There is no doubt that the show needed some kind of a change. “Meet the Press” spent decades at No. 1, but the leader is now CBS’s “Face the Nation” (with a weekly average viewership of 3.35 million during the first three months of 2014 — 5 percent more than ABC’s “This Week” and 8 percent more than “Meet the Press.”) This past weekend, “Meet the Press” attracted 2.1 million viewers vs. about 2.9 million for “Face the Nation” and approximately 2.6 million for “This Week.”
As Todd’s former boss Crawford says, knowing the material is only half the reason that Todd will be a good fit at “Meet the Press.” “The other half is having an engaging personality,” Crawford says. “He loves people and is chattier than Gregory. He’ll be able to break down barriers and get people off of their talking points.”
So it seems that each time somebody compares Todd to the popular Russert, each time somebody says that Todd is truly passionate about politics, or that he lives for the game, the implication is that Gregory does not. Not everyone thinks that’s fair.
“I don’t know why we have to compliment Todd at Gregory’s expense,” political strategist Hilary Rosen said in an interview. “David’s great, too.”
For weeks, the rumor mills were spinning at top speed. Competitors on Fox News even started feeling bad for Gregory: “NBC is throwing David Gregory under the bus and it’s drip drip drip,” Greta Van Susteren wrote. “It is so slow, so painful and wicked.”
As of Thursday afternoon, it no longer felt so slow. By Sunday, “Meet the Press” will have a new host.