Mark Whitaker, currently Senior Vice President at NBC News, has been named chief of the network's Washington, D.C. bureau, a spot that has remained vacant since Tim Russert died on June 13.
Last month, the New York Observer's Felix Gillette wrote that insiders were speculating that Whitaker — who formerly held the top job at Newsweek — would succeed Russert as the head of NBC's D.C. bureau:
Over the past year, according to NBC News sources, Mr. Whitaker has become a popular and well-respected presence at 30 Rockefeller Center. Fellow executives are said to value his judgment, and he is often called in to help out with touchy editorial conflicts--a fairly common occurrence these days as executives have wrestled to merge the just-the-facts culture of NBC News with the more freewheeling sensibilities of MSNBC. Along the way, Mr. Whitaker has earned a reputation as a conscientious manager with a deft touch for diplomacy.
That said, his specific responsibilities at NBC News remain opaque to outsiders and insiders alike. "He sits in on a lot of meetings," said one staffer. "But no one seems to know quite what it is he does."
"He knows how to run a news-gathering operation," one former NBC News senior staffer added. "But he's basically a vice president without a portfolio. He's kind of been floating around."
Assigning him to oversee the Washington bureau, goes the theory, would pin down Mr. Whitaker's talents to a specific challenge. Moreover, it wouldn't cost the news division any additional money at a time when NBC Universal chief Jeff Zucker has been clamping down on costs across the board.
Interestingly, when Russert was appointed Washington bureau chief in 1988, he was also the New York-based #2 executive at NBC News with no television experience — just like Whitaker.
"The enormity of filling this position was by no means lost on any of us, given the significance this job holds, particularly on the eve of an extraordinary presidential election," said NBC News President Steve Capus. "But the truth is, he is the ideal candidate for the job, and that was evident the minute we took stock of potential replacements. Mark's got all of the components that will assure his success - a commitment to journalistic integrity, political savvy, a keen eye for the future, and a management style that is inclusive and fair. He is exactly what the bureau needs."
"I am honored and humbled to succeed Tim, whose commitment to journalism without fear or favor is a beacon for us all," Whitaker said. "And I am thrilled to get to work with our unparalleled team of NBC reporters and producers in Washington."
As Washington bureau chief, Whitaker will oversee both the network's political content — namely "Meet the Press" and NBC News' entire network election and political coverage — and the day-to-day operations of the Washington bureau, where he will oversee management and administration. He will also make occasional appearances as an on-air analyst.
Full press release below:
MARK WHITAKER NAMED NBC NEWS D.C. BUREAU CHIEF
Position Includes Executive Oversight of "Meet the Press" and Network Election and Political Coverage
NEW YORK - July 28, 2008 - NBC News announced today that Mark Whitaker has been named Chief of the network's Washington, D.C. bureau. His appointment fills a vacancy left by the untimely death of Tim Russert in June. Whitaker, a veteran, award-winning journalist who is currently a Senior Vice President at NBC News, will assume his duties immediately. The announcement was made by NBC News President Steve Capus, to whom Whitaker will report.
"The enormity of filling this position was by no means lost on any of us, given the significance this job holds, particularly on the eve of an extraordinary presidential election," said Capus. "But the truth is, he is the ideal candidate for the job, and that was evident the minute we took stock of potential replacements. Mark's got all of the components that will assure his success - a commitment to journalistic integrity, political savvy, a keen eye for the future, and a management style that is inclusive and fair. He is exactly what the bureau needs."
Whitaker will continue in his role as SVP at NBC News. His day-to-day responsibilities will include executive oversight of "Meet the Press," as well as of all of NBC News' network election and political coverage. As D.C. Bureau Chief, he will oversee all bureau management and administration, as well as work closely with NBC News Political Director Chuck Todd, and Deputy Bureau Chiefs Wendy Wilkinson and Brady Daniels. Whitaker will also make occasional appearances as an on-air analyst.
"I am looking forward to keeping our coverage of politics and government the best in the business," said Whitaker. "I am honored and humbled to succeed Tim, whose commitment to journalism without fear or favor is a beacon for us all. And I am thrilled to get to work with our unparalleled team of NBC reporters and producers in Washington."
Prior to joining NBC News, Whitaker served as Editor of Newsweek from 1998-2006. During his tenure with the magazine, the newsweekly published its best-selling issues of all time and had years of record profitability. It also received more editorial awards than at any other time in its history. Among these were the National Magazine Award for General Excellence, the industry's highest prize, in 2002 for coverage of 9/11, and in 2004 for coverage of the Iraq war.
Whitaker also oversaw the growth of Newsweek's web site, which is affiliated with NBC News' MSNBC.com. Its awards included Editor & Publisher's "EPpy" award for best newsmagazine web site and the MIN "Best of the Web Award" for Best National Magazine-Affiliated Web Site.
From 2006 until 2007, Whitaker served as Vice President and Editor-in-Chief of New Ventures at Washingtonpost.Newsweek Interactive, creating new online ventures and multimedia for Newsweek's parent, The Washington Post Company.
Widely respected in the journalism community, Whitaker served as President of the American Society of Magazine Editors from 2004 - 2006. He is a current board member of the Committee to Protect Journalists
Before becoming top editor, Whitaker served as a reporter, writer and editor for Newsweek for two decades. He started his career reporting for Newsweek as a summer intern and stringer in San Francisco, Boston, Washington, London and Paris while in college and graduate school. He became business editor in 1987. As an assistant managing editor and then managing editor from 1991 to 1998, Whitaker helped oversee coverage that included the first Gulf War and the presidential elections of 1992 and 1996.
Whitaker graduated summa cum laude from Harvard College in 1979 and studied international relations at Oxford University's Balliol College as a Marshall Scholar. He is married to Alexis Gelber, Newsweek's director of special projects. They have two children.
# # #