While Russert's Sunday morning television appearances are what most Americans will miss most about the late Washington bureau chief of NBC, it was his stewardship of the bureau--and his successful consolidation of power within it--that was the great organizational achievement of his tenure. That position remains vacant.
By all accounts, the job of Washington bureau chief for a broadcast news division is what you make of it. It can be an easy life, if you are happy to take direction from headquarters and run errands for the head of the news division. Or it can be challenging, if you mean to make your Washington bureau one that has the power to call its own shots.
But at a minimum, a bureau chief is expected to oversee the division's roster of über-competitive correspondents, handling such delicate tasks as, say, doling out candidate assignments at the start of presidential elections. The chief must also serve as the liaison to all the major institutions in Washington, from the White House to the Pentagon. And the chief must continuously grapple with producers in New York to make sure his reporters get plenty of airtime on the morning and evening newscasts.
Beyond that, the title of Washington bureau chief is a great license to serve as a kind of all-purpose beltway bon vivant. Wining and dining sources, handing out tickets to the White House Correspondents' Association dinner, trafficking in gossip, trading news bits, jockeying with rivals and racking up booth time at Cafe Milano are all part of the job. It's a coveted position, and already there has been much speculation among D.C. insiders about whom NBC will tap for the position.
In recent days, several sources at the network told The Observer that they believe NBC News' senior vice president, Mark Whitaker, is the most likely candidate to land the gig.