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From rumor to truthiness: Echo chamber says David Gregory is a goner

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"Meet the Press" host David Gregory participates in the panel for NBC News during the NBC Universal sessions at the Television Critics Association winter press tour in Pasadena, Calif. (Reuters)

Flash! “Huge David Gregory Rumors Pick Up Steam.”

That was the Huffington Post headline about whether NBC is preparing to dump the moderator of “Meet the Press” after the midterms. And all HuffPost had were…rumors.

The Daily Beast chimed in: “Dead Head Talking?”

Here is Politico’s contribution to the story: “David Gregory is toast, probably … Is that true? It almost doesn't matter. It feels right.” Hey, that’s an interesting standard.

All were chasing an item on the New York Post’s gossipy Page Six, based on one unnamed “NBC source” and reporting that the veteran newsman “could be replaced” after the fall elections.

The episode encapsulates both what’s wrong with reporting and with the way the networks handle struggling stars.

Now I have reason to believe that Gregory may well get the boot—but I don’t publish stories based on the expectations of insiders unless I can prove them.

Gregory is obviously in trouble. “Meet the Press” has slipped to third place, behind “This Week” and “Face the Nation.” He has lost 43 percent of his audience since the unenviable task of succeeding the late Tim Russert six years ago. He’s been criticized for everything from tepid questions to leaning left to the stunt of bringing a high-capacity gun magazine on the set. He has never seemed all that comfortable in the role. NBC isn’t going out of its way to forcefully deny that Gregory’s days are numbered.

Still, leaving Gregory twisting in the wind is a singularly cold-hearted way to do it. Yes, an NBC spokesman told the New York Post that the “false rumors” should be taken with a “grain of salt.” That is hardly a definitive vote of confidence of the kind that NBC News President Deborah Turness issued last spring, when the Washington Post reported that the network had ordered a psychological study of Gregory that included an interview with his wife. Firing him would be more humane than allowing the whole media world to speculate about who’s about to grab his job.

But that doesn’t let the media world off the hook. How do these news organizations justify trumpeting a thinly sourced tabloid report, in most cases with no additional reporting? Is it just because it’s fun to bash David Gregory?

Pundits love to speculate about what comes next, and that’s especially true in the incestuous media business. So now the chatter is about whether Chuck Todd, the likable politics junkie who covers the White House, hosts MSNBC’s “Daily Rundown” and is NBC’s political director, will move into the Sunday spot. Others are chattering about Joe Scarborough (and co-host Mika Brzezinski), who the Beast says has been “aggressively angling” to use “Morning Joe” as a springboard for “Meet the Press.” Scarborough denies any aggressive angling on Twitter. And while it might seem odd for a former Republican congressman (and his openly liberal sidekick) to get the coveted chair, keep in mind that Russert toiled for Mario Cuomo and Daniel Patrick Moynihan before becoming a fair and tough-minded Sunday host.

See? The game is fun.

The media have become a giant echo chamber, and some of these rumors are stoked by agents who want to create chatter for their guy. That means Page Six can drive a story with a dollop of gossip. NBC ought to stand behind David Gregory or put an end to this cruel circus. 

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Howard Kurtz is a Fox News analyst and the host of "MediaBuzz" (Sundays 11 a.m. and 5 p.m. ET). He is the author of five books and is based in Washington. Follow him at @HowardKurtz. Click here for more information on Howard Kurtz.