As the second Sunday rolls around without Tim Russert, and while Brian Williams will be standing in this weekend, I am remembering the influence Meet the Press has had on the leadership of this country, due in part to the seriousness and poise with which Russert treated both his guests and those of us who occasionally were his critics. I was one of those critics, when the White House Project conducted a series of studies entitled "Who's Talking" which showed how few women experts ever appeared on Meet the Press (and four other Sunday morning talk shows).
Granted, when it came to political guests, Russert and the rest had to take whoever the political sphere sent, but open slots still remained, and women were outnumbered in all the shows by nine-to-one in guest appearances. Instead of trying to cover up the findings, Russert and his executive producer did a "re-count" of our analysis; and when they found "Who's Talking" to be true, they responded with the journalistic integrity and professionalism that so many have accorded to Russert and the program.
They even had us come over to the show to discuss our findings. They acknowledged that we had, indeed, counted correctly. But when we mentioned how they could have increased their numbers just by having women make the same number of repeat appearances that men did, they balked. "Look at all the repeat appearances the then fresh-faced Senator John Edwards made on your show," we said.
"Oh, but he was a vice-presidential nominee," they countered, "That's why we had him on so often."
We took them back to when Edwards made all those appearances, and showed them how actually took place before any mention of Edwards as Vice President. "Perhaps you helped make him a nominee."
It was a friendly, respectful meeting. And I watched every Sunday because even when I saw the march of men, I had hope for a show where a powerful man had treated us seriously and respectfully.
I cheered when in this election season, I saw Russert take the opportunity the candidates' diversity presented to offer up female pundits week after week: Mary Matalin, Michelle Norris, Gwen Infill, Doris Kearns Goodwin, Peggy Noonan, Maureen Dowd - a veritable platter of diversity, and much of it fresh and welcome.
It's made me hope that one of these women might eventually take Russert's mantle; after all, visibility is viability, and wouldn't it be great to have the most prestigious and hard hitting show on the Sunday circuit feature a woman host?
In honor of Tim Russert, I invite all who read this to submit your favorite host and we will forward your suggestions to NBC.
It would be a great tribute to Russert, who opened so many doors in his life, to open this one in his death.
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