DC at Night

DC at Night

Saturday, June 15, 2013

Meet The Press

Tim Russert interviewing President Bill Clinton for Meet the Press.
Meet the Press. You probably know the Sunday morning news show, which began airing in 1947, making it the longest-running TV show in the world. And you are probably familiar with at least one of its 11 hosts, which includes such distinguished journalistic names as Martha Rountree, Lawrence E. Spivak, and Tim Russert.

But chances are, unless you are a die-hard fan of the news program, you have no idea who Betsy Fischer Martin is. Martin, who came to work 2 decades ago as an unpaid intern, has been senior executive producer of the show since 2002. And today, she appeared at the Newseum to discuss the program and how it is produced.

Much of the discussion centered around Russert, who died in 2008 after hosting the show for 17 years.

"He was the greatest," Martin said. "I got bit by the journalism bug and the reason was Tim Russert. He was always extremely focused and prepared, but he had a lot of fun with it. Tim's mission was accountability. He was a truth seeker. He believed if you can't answer a tough question then you're not going to be able to make a tough decision"

In this time of bitter political soundbites and screaming talking heads, Martin said the staff of Meet the Press
tries to present a once-a-week news program where viewers can get "an opportunity to take a breath and hear a civilized discourse," a course of action Russert championed and has been continued under current host  David Gregory.

Fischer said that much of the tone of the show is established by the character of the host. "Tim was a lawyer by training and it was really like he was conducting a cross-examination. David is more a journalist with a capital J," Martin said.

Martin said the importance of the weekly news determines who is asked to be a guest on the top-rated show. "We want guests who are very active, make a lot of news, and want to come on the show. You don't always get exactly who you want every week. People are surprised to hear that," she explained.

She said that guests must agree to answer any questions they are asked. "They have no idea what we are going to ask. The guests know that everything is on the table. If the chief of staff of a Senator says the Senator doesn't want to discuss the little problem he is having back home, then the Senator won't be invited on the program," Martin said.

Martin admitted that the advent of the internet and social media has drastically altered preparations for the next show, which actually begin moments after the conclusion of each Sunday program. "We used to clip out newspaper clippings and put them into a booklet. Now, we use the internet. I use Twitter as a news feed. I follow a number of newspapers and journalists that I trust and now get the news as it happens," she said.

The increasing partisan politics in America has had an effect on the show. "There is less willingness for guests (of opposite views) to come on together," Martin said. "It's all much more of a debate now."

Martin acknowledged that the fast pace of important breaking news can pose some difficulty in setting any kind of rigid weekly plan. But that is actually a good thing, she noted. "It's much better than saying 'Oh gosh, what are we going to possibly talk about this week. That's like (usually news slow because Washington shuts down for vacation) August material," Martin said with a laugh.

Tales, Tidbits, and Tips
The Newseum is currently featuring an exhibition which honors Russert and recreates his office as it was when he was hosting Meet the Press. To read a previous The Prices Do DC post about that exhibit, just click here.

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