Well, NBC has done it again. Network executives were underhanded and devious in the public firing of David Gregory as the host of Meet the Press just as they were in bouncing Ann Curry from the TODAY show.
Chuck Todd, another former NBC White House correspondent, will replace Gregory.
A Brewing Crisis
As you might expect, the media jumped on the news and pummeled NBC, turning the firing into a major communications crisis for NBC News and its floundering Sunday morning news show.
The first indication of his leaving came not from the network’s PR department, but from Gregory’s own posts on his Twitter account, expressing his gratitude for his years at the network. He was classy and circumspect in writing:
Gregory wasn’t given the opportunity to say a last good-bye to his loyal followers. Andrea Mitchell substituted for him as guest host this past Sunday and it was was left to her to offer a touching farewell to her long-time colleague.
To date, NBC News hasn’t taken control of the situation by issuing a press release explaining its decision to move forward in reversing a steady decline in ratings.
Who’s in Charge?
Deborah Turness, president of NBC News, was reported as saying in a staff memo last April that she wanted to express “my support for the show and for David, now and into the future, as we work together to evolve the format.” What changed, she said, was the scrutiny of the show. “Pressure from outside the organization” had been a factor, she added.
Every organization these days is like a leaky boat. Rumors floated that NBC had hired psychological and brand consultants to assess Gregory’s performance. The network didn’t confirm or deny the rumors.
This was not the way to treat Gregory during the months of rumors about his imminent departure. Kudos to Gregory for being a class act and continuing to do his job with distinction every day.
If this is how NBC handles broadcasters at the highest level, you can only imagine how they treat employees who are not in the public eye.
Recognizing a Brewing Crisis
NBC allowed the firing of such a high-profile journalist to turn into a brewing crisis. NBC was aware of the rumors and knew things were going wrong, but allowed the situation to snowball. Going into containment overdrive now won’t work. The damage has been done to the company’s reputation.
Every company – especially a company that is in the news business – should have a crisis communications plan in place. The plan should always answer the question, “What could go wrong?”
Not having a transition plan in place was what went wrong. Not allowing David Gregory to say good-bye on his last Meet the Press program was what went wrong. No amount of sugar coating by NBC News could have helped. It was apparent to everyone that he was fired.
Instead, the company should have orchestrated a smooth transition to the new host. As it is, they haven’t announced any plans about how they intend to turn around the show’s ratings.
The problem may not be with the host of Meet the Press. Times have changed. The public is fed up with the politicians who are the staples on the Sunday morning shows of the three networks. Politicians today have their own agendas and are masters at evading questions.
While Chuck Todd is a capable journalist, unless the format is revamped, it may not even matter who hosts the show.