The Drama of TV News .. this time NBC’s David Gregory (and, being the now longest continuing cable news anchor, I think I have seen it all!)

TV

Yes…I know…I still have the defense attorney blood running through my veins.  I hate to see anyone targeted for the kill even if it is competition.

In my day’s news read, I just spotted another David Gregory Meet the Press article and can’t help but think, what is going on over at NBC?   I am not telling you to watch MTP or not, or whether Gregory should stay or leave — but I am telling you that it is NBC executives (“the suits”) who are all over this.  They are shooting Gregory and shooting themselves in the foot.  They are unnecessarily disrupting an entire news organization that reaches beyond Gregory.

The NBC executives could have nipped these MTP stories in the bud…but now they are growing and growing.  Once the media stampede starts, it is hard to stop.   Others in the media jump on them, spread the stories and even the snarky people enjoy them.  These recent stories about Gregory are awful – who is planting them or causing them?  who are the anonymous sources? Certainly not Gregory.  If a network wants to, it can destroy a talent.  If a network  wants to fight for that talent, it can, and not just with wimpy press statements — no one buys those – but proving it with what they do with the talent.  They need to prove it….do something….real proof, not a dopey press release or statement that no one believes.

There is a predictable pattern in TV news when a network begins to drag or even hit the skids.  A new top executive is hired in some important job who wants to put his giant mark on the network and fast.  Big bucks, and big p/r surrounded the new executive hire and the executive goes into panic mode – how to fix the network fast, over night.  He believes he knows all (he got hired, right?)  And he (or she) is desperate to make some giant statement of some sort with some major decision.

Often a news corporate executive has been only that, an  executive, and while that is an important set of skills, the executive has little or no idea what it means to do a news show.   You need that, too…not to mention good common sense about what you are doing to the institution as you think how to fix it.  A news show needs real support from the company — that includes ample resources and not getting thrown under the bus by your own company.

Instability at a network, caused by a shakeup in the programming or rumors of it, not only disrupts the direct victim but makes all the others who work at the network nervous, wondering if they are next.  And when you are busy worrying about if you are next, you are not working on your show, your job.  I saw this when AOL bought CNN in 2001.  The hallway anchor chatters goes from discussing news and bookings to ‘who is getting fired? or why are the suits in town today?’

A network or an executive who lets his stars get whacked in the media (and don’t tell me that could not be stopped) is hurting the network.

A network executive who comes to a network with grandiose ideas and who turns the network upside down with big changes fast is likewise making a big mistake.  Network improvement can’t happen fast.  It is far smarter to tinker with the existing programming than do those huge changes that seem to only generate short term headlines for the new executives.  Networks have loyal viewers and many network executives make the mistake of programming and hiring for themselves and their close friends, not the viewers.

And some new networks executives do silly stuff like dump the brand that has held the network together for years.  Larry King is a good example.  When he got pushed out he was #1 in all of CNN programming.   Yes, his ratings were down but they sure were better than anybody’s else at CNN.   I would not have booted my #1 guy…he would be my last boot.

That doesn’t mean an anchor should stay forever, or a show forever, but at least have enough sense to know what is and has been working for the network and don’t start with your best.  Why do new executives do this?  I think they do it for themselves.  I think they think the big headlines with these big moves is somehow going to draw viewers.  It just hasn’t happened that way.

I have no inside scoop on Gregory.  Of course eventually, if the network doesn’t step up and back up their talent, Gregory will bite the dust.   The stampede will win. His career will be tarnished.  I don’t like that that.  He should get a fair shake from everyone — his network and the media and everyone else.

By the way, as you read the articles, you might want to think about this.  Often the stuff you read in the paper about TV news gossip is just silly stuff  - pasted together from anonymous sources and from reading and sourcing others’ anonymous sourced articles about the same topic.  It is the telephone game.

Here is an example.  Remember last July when many well known news organizations were saying I was getting pushed out of  Fox News Channel?   They were writing those stories and copying and quoting each other – and their souces? anonymous.  Two months earlier, in May, I had just signed a new long term dream contract.  When I signed my new contract in May, I didn’t talk about it.   It is a confidential deal and I keep my word.    It got pretty silly in July when the stampede began about me – and many journalists soiled themselves with their silly – false – stories based on anonymous sources.

After enough stories, I finally asked Fox to give me permission to break the confidentially clause of my contract, so I could  shut down the false rumors.  I wanted to do it myself.   Fox News said ok.  But Fox News Channel is unusual.  I appreciate Fox for this.  I am not sure other networks would allow a talent to do that.   Many networks are  afraid to have talent / anchors talk and thus media contracts put the lid on talent so the narrative is controlled by the media corporation.  Some news organizations seem content to let the talent fry.

By the way, you know from reading GretaWire how much I hate the overuse of anonymous sources so I have kept copies of all those articles about me.  Some day I hope to write a book about journalists’ insatiable appetite for anonymous sources and how it has undermined the credibility of journalism.  It is not uncommon to find that an explosive article is written, sourced to an anonymous source…then, if you wait a bit and track the original anonymous source story….the facts emerge weeks, months later…and you see that the journalist in the original piece was lazy and did not pursue a good source ON THE RECORD and simply was used by some rat to do a drive by ambush.  WARNING: there is a REASON ANONYMOUS SOURCES WANT TO BE ANONYMOUS.

And one last note to others in the media and who are snarky and enjoying the articles about Gregory:  you may enjoy them now….but you may be next.  Loyalty is rare in this business.

And if you are thinking, what stories about David Gregory, here are two screen shots of the turmoil in just the last 24 or so hours (and even though the executives may say they are standing behind him, they got themselves, and worse, Gregory, into this):

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