NBC's news chief says she supports embattled "Meet the Press" moderator David Gregory "now and into the future" as the Sunday morning public affairs program tries to turn around sinking ratings.
NBC News President Deborah Turness, in a memo to "Meet the Press" staff members, said Gregory has been the victim of vindictive, personal and untrue chatter.
"NBC News is proud to have David in the important anchor chair of 'Meet the Press,'" Turness wrote. "He is passionate about politics, and is committed to getting answers for our viewers on the issues that matter to them the most."
The network has been concerned by the reaction to a story published Sunday in The Washington Post that said that NBC commissioned a "psychological consultant" to interview Gregory's wife and friends. The word "psychological" quickly became a sticking point; NBC says they worked with a brand consultant probing perceptions of Gregory's strengths and weaknesses to develop a marketing campaign.
NBC said its problem is not with the Post but how other media organizations have picked up on the article to make suggestions that NBC had Gregory see a psychologist, said an NBC executive who requested anonymity because the person could not discuss personnel matters. The consultants did their work more than a year ago, before Turness joined NBC.
Gregory, in an interview with Washington radio station WTOP on Friday, denounced "gossip reporting gone wild." He said there was nothing unusual about what the consultants did and that "the idea that there's any psychological counseling or testing is a complete fiction."
The Post story does not mention any psychological counseling or testing. Paul Farhi, who wrote the Post article, said Friday he's comfortable with how the questioning was characterized. "I don't know what kind of 'brand' research involves interviewing your wife and friends about you and your personality," he said.
"Meet the Press" recently slipped behind ABC's "This Week" into third place in viewership among the Sunday morning political chat shows. CBS' "Face the Nation" is first, although its rivals claim CBS' ratings are skewed because only the first half hour of the show is measured by the Nielsen company. Some CBS stations don't carry the full hour of "Face the Nation."
The NBC show is also third among 25-to-54-year-old viewers, the demographic that is the basis for most advertising sales for news programs. Last year, it was in a virtual tie with CBS for first, the Nielsen company said.
Ratings problems are perhaps more acutely felt at NBC because "Meet the Press" was by far the dominant Sunday morning show when it was hosted by the late Tim Russert. NBC also believes the growing strength of CBS' "Sunday Morning" program has an impact on ratings for the later shows.
Russert's longtime executive producer, Betsy Fischer Martin, was replaced last June by Rob Yarin.
Turness said that she wanted to reach out to the show's staff "to reiterate my support for the show and for David, now and into the future, as we work together to evolve the format." She said Gregory is at the helm for any changes in the works.