Meet the Press is the oldest and most treasured public affairs show on television. The program’s host, merely by occupying the job, is a leader in broadcast journalism and in the Washington, D.C. community where the show is based.
This is why the ongoing silence of David Gregory and NBC News — following his apparent on-air violation of DC gun laws — is so disconcerting. By choosing not to comment, not only is Gregory diminished, but it harms the legacy of Meet the Press and leaves Washington, D.C. police with no opportunity to save face and move on.
The background to this mess is simple. On the December 23rd edition of “Meet the Press,” Gregory had a heated confrontation with Wayne LaPierre of the the National Rifle Association and held up what appeared to be a 30-round gun magazine.
As I discussed on my nationally syndicated radio and YouTube show ”Take Action News,” which you can see in the YouTube video below, city gun laws prohibit possessing a “large capacity ammunition feeding device,” — defined as holding more than 10 rounds — regardless of whether it is attached to a firearm and whether there are bullets in it. The misdemeanor is punishable by up to one year in jail and a $1,000 fine. (Shameless plug: you can subscribe to video clips from the show for free at Youtube.com/takeactionnewstv.)
According to Washington, D.C. police, “NBC contacted MPD (DC Metropolitan Police Department) inquiring if they could utilize a high capacity magazine for their segment. NBC was informed that possession of a high capacity magazine is not permissible and their request was denied.”
In other words, somebody on Gregory’s team was warned by DC police not to use the large capacity ammunition magazine…and Gregory ended up using it anyway.
Full disclosure: I worked at MSNBC/NBC News in Washington for eight years. I know David and many of his producers. I’m certain they had an inadvertent miscommunication and were misled by another law enforcement agency official, both of which contributed to the blunder.
None the less, Washington, D.C. police are now stuck. If they let David Gregory off without getting any acknowledgment from him that he made a mistake, police will be throwing “equal justice under the law” out the window. After all, would an African American in Southeast DC who violated a gun law — and wouldn’t acknowledge it — get a break? Of course not.
And yet, each day the Gregory investigation continues, D.C. police are wasting more precious resources and time.
I appreciate that NBC counsel have apparently urged David Gregory, his staff, and all executives not to say anything while the investigation continues. But in this case, the narrow interests of a company lawyer undercut the ethical obligations of Meet the Press to journalism and the city of Washington, D.C.
There is nothing that prevents David Gregory from showing some respect to those institutions right now by saying something like, “I am sorry that my actions have caused a police investigation. My team and I will cooperate fully with DC police and do whatever we can to help resolve this matter.”
For now, however, David Gregory and NBC News offer only silence and “no comment.”
This is unfortunate and hypocritical. Not taking responsibility is what Gregory himself accused the Obama White House of doing in October over Benghazi. Gregory said at the time, “the buck stops with the White House and the President on these matters.”
The host of Meet the Press is not like the President of the United States. Still, a leader of any treasured institution has public and ethical obligations that go far beyond narrow legal concerns. Public confidence and respect is important, as I’m sure David Gregory appreciates.
Some of my journalism colleagues have raised good questions about the efficacy of using a visual “stunt” on a serious news program in the first place.
bsun.md/10liwo4 Indeed, it’s hard to imagine the giants of television news interview shows, including Ted Koppel or the late Tim Russert, waving a gun magazine at a guest. If Gregory never waves a prop again, perhaps at least some good will have come out of this entire episode.
But that’s an issue for another day.
For now, David Gregory and NBC News should make a brief public apology and show some humility. It would give police some public leeway — with the addition of NBC’s private cooperation — that will enable investigators to swiftly conclude things and move on.
The ongoing silence, however, represents the arrogance of corporate legal practices. It’s not the image any of us who care about journalism want for Meet the Press or the show’s host.
About the Author (Author Profile)
David Shuster is an Emmy Award-winning broadcast news anchor and correspondent for Current TV. Based in Washington,D.C., Shuster serves as the primary substitute host for “Countdown with Keith Olbermann.”
Previously, Shuster hosted shows on MSNBC and anchored that network’s prime time coverage of breaking news stories including the historic Congressional votes for healthcare reform, the earthquake in Haiti, and the death of Michael Jackson.
Shuster also worked for NBC News, where he covered Operation Iraqi Freedom in Doha,Qatar; the first elections in Baghdad, Iraq; the selection of Pope Benedict in Vatican City; and Hurricane Katrina as the storm made landfall in Biloxi, Mississippi.
On MSNBC’s Hardball, Shuster led the show’s coverage of the 2004 and 2008 Presidential campaigns. He headed up MSNBC’s “ad watch team,” fact checking and analyzing hundreds of campaign commercials. He also covered the national political conventions and the presidential campaign primaries. In the fall of 2003, Shuster spent two months in California leading Hardball’s coverage of the recall of Governor Gray Davis and the election of Arnold Schwarzenegger.
From 1996-2002, Shuster was a Washington, D.C. based correspondent for the Fox News Channel. He was at the Pentagon on 9/11 and led Fox’s coverage in Washington,D.C.of U.S.military operations in Afghanistan. During the Clinton administration, Shuster led Fox’s coverage of the Clinton investigations including “Whitewater,” the Monica Lewinsky scandal, the Starr report, and the Senate impeachment trial.
From 1994–1996, Shuster was the lead investigative and political reporter for KATV (ABC) in Little Rock,Arkansas. He led the station’s coverage of the Whitewater investigation, including the indictment, trial, conviction, and resignation of Arkansas Governor Jim Guy Tucker. Shuster’s series on corruption at the Arkansas Manufactured Housing Commission prompted changes in state law and earned Shuster an Emmy Award for Investigative Reporting.
From 1990–1994, Shuster was a field producer and assignment editor for CNN in their Washington, D.C.bureau.
In 2006, Shuster was the recipient of the prestigious “Bugle Award” given by the 1.3 million member organization “Disabled American Veterans.” The annual honor recognizes journalists who bring attention to disabled veterans. Shuster won for his extensive coverage of the 2005 National Disabled American Veterans Winter Sports Clinic in Aspen,Colorado.
Shuster is a graduate of the Universityof Michigan. He lives in Washington, D.C.