03/18/2010 05:12 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

David Gregory Gets Tougher: His Expression Says It All

When David Gregory, in the wake of the death of NBC's Tim Russert, took over the helm of Meet the Press, expectations for Gregory were sky high. He was the fearless reporter who had made a name for himself taking on all of "W's" men.

Gregory waltzed into a news program that boasted by far the highest Sunday morning ratings, leaving ABC's George Stephanopoulos and This Week in the dust.

But Gregory seemed tamed rather than energized by taking over the coveted Russert seat. He seemed to lose his edge, his one-on one's with administration bigwigs seemed soft and studiously respectful. The ratings gap between NBC and ABC narrowed, and Stephanopoulos was closing in.

On the Sunday after Christmas, 2009, two days after a 23-year-old Nigerian, Umar Farouk Abdul Mutallab, attempted to blow a hole in the side of Northwest Delta Flight 253 bound from Amsterdam to Detroit, the old Gregory was back, impatient, irritable, shorn of his mushy style.

Not only did he refuse to make nice with his first two guests, Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano and White House press secretary Robert Gibbs, both or whom, Napolitano most egregiously, refused to address the simple question: Why was this man whose own father had contacted the U.S. Embassy in Nigeria to express concerns about his son's radical politics allowed to board a plane, not to mention board it while carrying explosives and a syringe?

As if to illustrate his refusal to let his guests off the hook, Gregory's face carried an angry expression that occupied the seconds between his guests' mealy-mouthed answers and Gregory's next question. (Gregory did the show from a studio in Lexington, Kentucky, where he was visiting relatives, so both guests were with him by remote camera.)

Gregory looked like he was channeling Chris Matthews, who openly scowls when he disagrees with his guests' answers or analyses.

After the third or fourth time, Gregory's sour expression lost some of its punch, and I began to wonder if he had contracted food poisoning from Christmas leftovers.