Now that David Gregory has been fired from his job as host of the NBC Sunday morning talk show, there have been many reasons given for why his show was awful and advice to his successor Chuck Todd on how to turn things around (see here and here). None of them will work because the underlying problem is structural and tinkering with the host and format will not help.
It all comes back to money and in this case it is advertising money, mostly. These shows’ sources of income are the underwriters who provide ad spots. The shows need to avoid alienating the big sponsors and attract them by getting a large enough audience. To do the former, they have to avoid criticisms of the system that are too harsh and to attract the latter they need to have ‘big name’ guests (which means familiar retreads) even if they have nothing to contribute. This is why the same people appear over and over again. The hosts won’t treat them harshly even when they dissemble and obfuscate because they are scared they will refuse to appear again.
What the host has to do is pretend to be tough by focusing on trivial issues, which former host Tim Russert (who inexplicably was held up as an icon by his peers) was good at. Russert was all hat and no cattle, as the saying goes.
There is a way to improve things but that would mean focusing more on getting at the truth of issues rather than having big name guests. That would involve getting lesser known and more varied guests who have some expertise on the issues or to really bone up on the issue being discussed and confront the guest with really tough questions. That might result in initial ratings losses because you are basically trying to create a new audience to replace the old and that takes time. But the new host Chuck Todd, like other major TV news personalities, seems to think that getting at the truth is not his responsibility.
But the even bigger problem is, as Charles Lewis pointed out, the fact that the big-name reporters and their bosses are pals with the very people they are covering and whose wrongdoings should be exposed.
As long as these shows stay within the current framework, no change is going to occur.