Watching David Gregory get the Meet the Press torch handed to him by NBC via the age-spotted hands of Tom Brokaw created an illusion of transparency that the secretive selection process did not deserve. For weeks, media insiders speculated more about what Sarah Palin would wear or not wear than how the choice of one of the most powerful seats in news media would be chosen. Ultimately the fatherly lecture delivered to the 38-year-old Gregory was more a personal moment for pop historian Brokaw than anything else. The choice had been made far from the eyesight of any of NBC viewers, in the halls of the last sanctioned all-Anglo boys club left in the US: the hall of network punditry.
The young Gregory should expect, and I wish him, a long successful career. But therein lays the problem. Brinkley retired at the age of 77 from his all-access front row seat to power. That could mean another 39 years of raw media influence for Gregory. Face the Nation's Bob Schieffer could easily stay in his seat another 10 to 15 years. Stephanopoulos is one of the other youngsters in the group at the age of 47 and John King was just given CNN's prestigious Sunday slot. Unless CBS breaks the mold we will not see a woman or person of color lead policy discussions and enjoy unparalleled access to the nation's power elite on Sunday mornings for at least 25 years. The network punditry has done what even the US Presidency failed to do: remain a racially-covenanted boys club for at least the first third of the 21st century.
Brokaw made a grand gesture of asking Gregory to include voices of his generation. In the "aw shucks" style of a teen being given instructions on how to behave at prom, Gregory smiled but made no commitments, other than to seek out more of Brokaws' sage advice.
As news of the Tribune looking for bankruptcy protection and NBC looking to fill more hours for less production cost wandered the airwaves, the Tara plantation of news -- Sunday morning punditry -- stands as a symbol of all that is stable. Unfortunately for the networks, stability has met history and has lost.
In order to revitalize Sunday mornings, Gregory must go beyond seeking those of his generation to seeking those outside of the guarded gates and marbled columns of the traditional media. Outside those gates there is a real marketplace of ideas, sometimes brutal, sometimes off, but entirely transformational and passionately vibrant. Should Gregory over the next few weeks make safe milky toast choices we will see that the columns of the estate stand only in testament to what was, and overseers of mansion-size decay. If Gregory chooses wisely he will bring in a new racially and ideologically diverse group that understands that ideas are no longer generated weekly, but hourly. Gregory could set upon a journey of talking to a group of journalists and pundits that understand the vibrancy of our democracy because they come from all parts of it. If Gregory will take these steps he will be setting the course of the new generation. If he does not, he will be tele-documenting the passing of the last.