POLITICS

The Most Terrible Edition Of 'Meet The Press' To Ever Air

06/24/2013 03:05 pm ET | Updated Jun 24, 2013

Those of you who already join me in my semi-self-imposed Sunday morning entrapment where I watch the terrible Sunday shows so you don't have to, will probably find this condensation of the June 23 edition of "Meet The Press" to be redundant, but it's worth pointing out a second time just how many occasions the people who produce the venerable chat show practically insist that rational adults change the channel. How long, after all, would you willingly endure televised excrement? If you aren't fantastically well-compensated to do so, probably not long.

This past Sunday's moment of infamy, of course, came during the show's first segment, which we were told at the outset was added because "Meet The Press" felt the need to accommodate some "breaking news":

GREGORY: Good Sunday morning. A busy one. We've got breaking news here that we are following this morning. NSA leaker Edward Snowden is on the move.

From there, David Gregory meets up with Guardian reporter Glenn Greenwald, to discuss this matter. Eventually, we get around to Gregory's facepalm moment:

GREGORY: Final question before -- for you, but I’d like you to hang around. I just want to get Pete Williams in here as well. To the extent that you have aided and abetted Snowden, even in his current movements, why shouldn’t you, Mister Greenwald, be charged with a crime?

There was probably a moment, somewhere in the long-forgotten past, in which the people who first forged the name "Meet The Press" imagined that they were conveying the idea that "the Press" was an institution conceived for carrying out the mission of holding powerful people to account. Now, I guess, it's a place where members of the press may or may not be criminally liable for performing their basic duties.

Greenwald responded in much the same way you'd expect, say, Dana Priest to answer, had anyone been stupid enough to drag her onto a Sunday show and put a similar question to her:

GREENWALD: I think it’s pretty extraordinary that anybody who would call themselves a journalist would publicly muse about whether or not other journalists should be charged with felonies. The assumption in your question, David, is completely without evidence, the idea that I’ve aided and abetted him in anyway. The scandal that arose in Washington before our stories began was about the fact that the Obama administration is trying to criminalize investigative journalism by going through the -- the e-mails and phone records of AP reporters, accusing a Fox News journalist of the theory that you just embraced, being a co-conspirator with felony -- in felonies for working with sources. If you want to embrace that theory, it means that every investigative journalist in the United States who works with their sources, who receives classified information is a criminal, and it’s precisely those theories and precisely that climate that has become so menacing in the United States. That’s why the New Yorker’s Jane Mayer said investigative reporting has come to a standstill, her word, as a result of the theories that you just referenced.

Sidebar: Over at MSNBC's longform Starbucks commercial, Gregory's colleague Joe Scarborough chides Greenwald for being "defensive," as if defending your right to produce journalism is somehow gauche. While Priest is fresh in our minds, let's remember that the aforementioned Scarborough once suggested that Priest -- having reported on the CIA's secret "black sites" -- would be culpable if future "planes go into buildings" -- a statement he was later shamed into recanting. (Let's also recall that when Scarborough has had the dead-on right to defend himself, he's gladly opted to be "defensive." As well he should be!)

Scarborough argues that Greenwald could have just answered "No" to the question and moved on. If he thinks that, he missed Gregory's question, which proceeded from the assumption that Greenwald's criminal culpability was an established given. As Erik Wemple notes: "A simple substitution exercise reveals the tautological idiocy of the query: “To the extent that you have murdered your neighbor, why shouldn’t you, Mr. Greenwald, be charged with a crime?” This is an inquiry that demands a defense, not a yes or no answer.

At any rate, "Meet The Press" offered its viewers a second chance to withdraw in disgust a few minutes later, when Gregory announced that he was going to have to cut short the segment that featured him asking questions of four lawmakers:

GREGORY: All right. We’re going to leave it there. Again, I appreciate it. Other topics that I wanted to cover including the economy and more on immigration, but we’ve run out of time and, especially, with this Snowden news. Chairman, Congresswoman, thank you. Senators, thank you both. Look forward to having you back on soon to talk about some of these other issues. We’re going to come back here with our political roundtable.

Do I have this right? Gregory, presumably willingly and affirmatively, chose to begin the show with that breaking news segment, and now he's very sorry that it is forcing him to cut short the part of the show where people are actually meeting the press? Seems odd to me. Odder still is the fact that at this point in the show, there was still nearly a half-hour left in the broadcast. That's plenty of time to talk about "the economy" and "immigration." All you have to do is bump the eminently bumpable "political roundtable." Who cares about Kasim Reed and Carly Fiorina sharing their fee-fees about current events when you can continue interrogating lawmakers?

David Gregory is very sorry that everyone got inconvenienced by a bunch of completely alterable choices.

But once we get into the super-important political roundtable segment, Gregory decided that he wasn't even done with the first segment of the show, and now he wanted to talk about it some more:

GREGORY: You know, part of the tactics of this and part of the debate is frankly around journalism. And Glenn Greenwald referenced it when I asked him a question about whether he should or will face charges, which has been raised. And, you know, I want to acknowledge there is a -- a debate on Twitter that goes on online about this even as we are speaking and here’s what Greenwald has tweeted after this appearance this morning, “Who needs the government to try to criminalize journalism when you have David Gregory to do it?” And I want to directly take that on because this is the problem with somebody who claims that he is a journalist, would object to a journalist raising questions which is not actually embracing any particular point of view.

If Gregory wants to "directly take that on," then he should have bloody well directly taken that on when he had the chance to do so. Thing is, he doesn't really want to take that on. He just wants Republican political consultant Mike Murphy to offer him some back-up.

GREGORY: What is journalism, Mike Murphy, and what is appropriate is actually part of this debate?

MURPHY: Absolutely. And the great irony to me in all this is so-called whistleblower can only go to almost rogue nations to hide, because then with this rule of law, he’d get extradited. He’s a felony. He’s a fugitive. It’s a bad sign for Hong Kong that has built an image of having its own independence from the PRC with its own system of law. That’s up in smoke today and that’s going to have repercussions in our relationship, I think, with the Chinese. So we’ll see what happens. He may wind up on the run in Caracas, but it’s clear he’s a felony and a fugitive and he will not have a good life now.

Please note that Murphy doesn't even bother to answer the question. (By the way, the one person who has sort of directly noted that Edward Snowden's "good life" is over is Edward Snowden, so everyone can just sort of calm down about that.)

Gregory circles around, probably accidentally, to raising a very good question:

GREGORY: Carly Fiorina, you know, I think the point is important because what Congress has failed to do is actually have the guts to have a debate. If you want to debate these things, then don’t pass the Patriot Act in perpetuity, don’t give the president authority to wage a military campaign without coming back and saying, hey, maybe we ought to review this. But Mike Hayden, who ran the NSA, was on this program last week, and he made the point that there has-- these programs cannot operate in the dark. They have to be politically sustainable.

I think that Congress has been pretty gutless, too! Gosh, if only there was a way for Meet The Press to, say, book four members of Congress on the show, to pursue that critique. Oh, wait, they did! But Gregory never told those members that they lacked "the guts to have a debate." What did happen, however is that Rep. Loretta Sanchez described the ways in which their ability to have that debate are constrained:

SANCHEZ: Well, as you know, I have not voted in favor of any Patriot Act or any of the FISA Amendments or anything else that goes with it particularly because I have been concerned in this area. You know, I mean the Supreme Court has been pretty straightforward about the Fourth Amendment. They’ve let it err on the sense of national security. It’s the Congress actually who can rein it in, but it’s the Congress who’s actually allowed it to be much broader and have collection happen. And my biggest point is that not everybody in the Congress is given access to what is really happening. And so when our American public says, hey, we don’t know about this and why are you doing this, I mean, maybe we can’t tell everybody in our nation, but you would think that 435 members of the House and a 100 senators should have access and ability to understand what the NSA is doing, what all the other agencies, intelligence agencies are doing. And actually have a good debate and maybe it has to be behind closed doors, but certainly with all deference to-- to our chairman here, he may have information, I doubt he has everything and knows everything, but certainly I am limited even when I ask.

So, late into the second half of Meet The Press, Glenn Greenwald's perceived slight is still fresh in Gregory's mind, but he's totally forgotten about what Loretta Sanchez just told him, about the structural constraints she faces in even having an open debate on the matter. Instead, Carly Fiorina, for reasons well beyond my understanding, gets the question about Congress being gutless. It was only a few short years ago that Fiorina was fighting to join the world's greatest deliberative body as a Republican candidate for Senate. If you want to assay the lost potential for really courageous guts that came in her electoral defeat, here's the salient part of Fiorina's answer:

FIORINA: Well, Mike Hayden was a great NSA leader and he’s a great friend.

I tell you, "guts" were really championed on "Meet The Press" that day!

Finally, there's this:

GREGORY: Let me get a quick -- well, let me do this. I got to get a break in here. I want to come back with our roundtable, talk about the immigration fight. Also another big story this weekend, Paula Deen -- her apology, what it means for her future after using racist language. We’re back with our roundtable right after this.

Amazing, right? After all the resentment about how the Snowden story stole time away from interrogating four lawmakers, and Gregory gutlessly beefing after the fact about Greenwald, and Gregory asking about the gutlessness of lawmakers once they'd quit the scene, we find out that "Meet The Press" was reserving valuable on-air time to make sure this esteemed panel of feeling-havers got to weigh in on the National Crisis Of Stuff That A Celebrity Chef Said In A Legal Deposition.

Needless to say, that's when I finally just gave up.

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