I was neither a fan nor a detractor of Tim Russert’s tenure at Meet The Press. He was clearly way too soft on the Bushies during the run-up to the Iraq War but he had charisma and gravitas, and was quite capable of eviscerating a non-Beltway luminary. His grilling of Gret Stet Fuhrer Wannabe David Dukke, is the stuff of legend and ensured that that anti-Semitic piece of shit would lose in a landslide. Russert dropped dead unexpectedly in 2008 but had built MTP into a ratings juggernaut after David Brinkley’s retirement at ABC. (I love Brinkley and used to do a passable imitation of his clipped, ironic delivery but enough of that.)
In short, David Gregory was born as a teevee host on Third Base and all he had to do was not blow it. His accidency somehow managed to do just that. Strike the somehow, I have the know-how to know how, if you know what I’m saying. Gregory’s fundamental problem is that he has all the charisma and presence of a wet noodle and that may be an insult to noodles, which can be yummy with the right sauce. Enough food talk. Gregory specializes in asking softball/obvious questions and playing footsie with DC power figures. He rarely if ever asks sharp, difficult questions even of non-Beltway luminaries, which Russert was willing to do. And that is why the man Charlie PIerce calls the Dancin’ Masteror Disco Dave is malaka of the week.
Gregory had the dangerous doofus, Rick Perry, on his show last Sunday. It was, of course, just few days after the horrendous, heinous, horrific and other H words botched execution in Oklahoma. It was the perfect chance for Gregory to pants Perry with tough probing questions. I’m pretty sure you know what happened even if you didn’t see the segment. Here’s how Salon’s Simon Maloy described it:
The interview was a big opportunity for Gregory – the gruesome spectacle in Oklahoma called into question the ethical foundation of the modern system of capital punishment, and Perry (a presidential aspirant) has overseen more executions than any other governor in modern history.
And David Gregory blew it in just about every way you can blow it.
Here are the questions Gregory asked Perry:
“You’ve got 273 people on death row in Texas. After what happened in Oklahoma, do you expect more challenges?”
“Was this inhumane?”
“Even somebody convicted of a heinous crime, you don’t want to see the government responsible for forcing a heart attack because they couldn’t inject the proper lethal drugs.” (Not actually a question)
“Is it appropriate for a pause in our national discussion and application of the death penalty? The president talking about bias, uneven application, soul-searching questions that he’d like the country to take. Do you agree with that?”
In each instance, Perry defended capital punishment in his state. “I think we have an appropriate process in place from the standpoint of the appeals process to make sure that due process is addressed,” Perry said. “I’m confident that the way the executions are taken care of in the state of Texas are appropriate and humane.”
Gregory didn’t challenge Perry at any point, on anything. That’s preposterous, given the controversy Perry has faced in his state over his enthusiastic pursuit of capital punishment.
The case that most often gets mentioned when discussing Rick Perry and the death penalty is that of Cameron Todd Willingham, who was convicted of murdering his children by setting fire to his house in 1991. In the months leading up Willingham’s scheduled execution, advocates on his behalf pressed Perry and the parole board to review the investigation of a renowned arson expert, who found that the state’s arson investigators had used junk science to obtain a conviction. Perry and the parole board ignored their requests and Willingham was put to death in February 2004.
There you have it, the man with the charisma of a wet washrag had the chance to have a Mike Wallace moment, and he dropped the ball. Dropping the ball is what Gregory and most of the other current Sunday show hosts do best. They’ve reformatted the shows to focus on-you guessed it-opinion. The Perry non-event was a small slice of the show instead of being a chance for the host to show that he has something on the ball. Another ball image? Gregory has all the charisma of a flat basketball and simply lacks balls. Period.
The depressing thing about Gregory’s malakatudinously weak questioning style is that it’s how the MSM media rolls nowadays. Instead of speaking truth to power, they suck up to power in order to maintain access. You could call it Bob Woodward syndrome, and it’s depressingly common among teevee interviewers right now. Some press folk would argue that they *do* ask tough questions, but that’s confusing gotcha questions with ones that matter.
Would Russert have done a better job with Perry? I’m not absolutely sure but he might have. Kicking Perry’s ass would have been a low risk strategy: he’s never going to be President, not after the “oops” moment. That should have led any decent interviewer to go for Perry’s throat, but in addition to being dull, Gregory is a bad, bad interviewer.
What American teevee could use is someone like the BBC’s resident badass, Jeremy Paxman, who makes Mike Wallace look like a lap dog. Paxo is leaving his perch at Newsnight after 25 years.He once asked Tory Home Secretary Michael Howard the same question a dozen times. ( Click here if you want to see Paxman’s greatest hits, courtesy of the Guardian.) To be fair, Paxman is not typical of British political interviewers but he exists, and he’s as entertaining as all get out. David Gregory is not and that is one of many reasons that he is malaka of the week.