Meet The Press, America's longest-running television series premiered on NBC-TV 6 November 1947. This exceptionally successful program was the first to bring Washington politics into American living-rooms.
Lawrence E. Spivak debuted the program in 1945 as a radio program to promote his magazine American Mercury. After Meet the Press moved to television, Spivak continued to serve as producer, regular panelist, and later, as moderator. He retired from the series in November 1975.
Originally, Meet the Press aired in a 30-minute, live press conference format. In this format, a political newsmaker essentially was interviewed by a panel of newspaper journalists. Currently, Meet the Press is presented as an one hour interview program. According to Kathleen Hall Jamieson, interview programs are far more successful than press conferences or debates because neither the follow-up by the reporter, nor the length of the candidates answers, is artificially constrained. Meet the Press' contemporary format consists of three interview segments with guests of national and international importance, followed by a roundtable discussion. The host, Tim Russert, is joined by two other journalists during the initial questioning periods and by three other journalists during the roundtable discussion.
Russert joined Meet the Press as moderator 8 December 1991. He came to the program with a thorough understanding of Capitol Hill politics, having previously served as Counselor to New York Governor Mario Cuomo and as Special Counsel and Chief of Staff to U.S. Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan. He also is well aware of how journalists cover politics. He has served as senior vice president and Washington, D.C. Bureau Chief for NBC since December 1988.
According to a former NBC producer, "Tim has an enormous amount of power right now to make and influence [government] policy on Meet the Press." On Meet the Press, questions are asked of political personalities in hopes of moving the political process forward or, at least, moving it along. Indeed, as Jamieson points out, key political confrontations have occurred on this forum:
20 September 1964: The only serious confrontation between the press and a member of the Democratic ticket over Johnson's 1964 "Daisy Girl" ad.
20 January 1980: David Broder asked President Carter, "[W]e still have 5.8% unemployment; inflation has risen from 4.8% to 13%. We still don't have a viable energy policy. Russian troops are in Cuba and Afghanistan. The dollar is falling; gold is rising, and the hostages after 78 days are still in Tehran. Just what have you done sir, to deserve renomination?"
14 January 1984: Vice presidential nominee Geraldine Ferraro is asked and complains about being asked if she "could push the nuclear button."
3 May 1992: Independent presidential contender H. Ross Perot disclaimed his assertion that the government could "easily" save $100 billion by cutting Social Security and Medicare benefits for "folks just like" him.
Although Meet the Press produces high levels of candidate accountability, traditionally it has attracted small audience shares. When the show premiered, it aired on Wednesday nights after 10:00 P.M. Later, it was moved to Monday, then to Saturday. In the mid-1960s, Meet the Press found its niche on Sunday afternoons. Today, it airs via network feed on Sundays from 9:30 to 10:30 A.M.
The program originates from Washington D.C. Yet, the show travels when world events necessitate major news. Cites have included: the 1988 and 1992 Republican and Democratic conventions, the 1993 Clinton-Yeltsin Summit in Vancouver, the 1990 Helsinki Summit, the 1989 United States-Soviet Summit on the island of Malta, and the 1989 Economic Summit of Industrialized Nations in Paris.
Whether in Washington D.C., or on location at an event of political importance, the discussions aired on Meet the Press often generate headlines in the mainstream media. Today, Meet the Press continues to engage viewers in the political process.
-Laurie Melton Mckinnon
Brown, L., editor. Les Brown's Encyclopedia of Television. New York: Zoetrope, 1982.
________., editor. The New York Times Encyclopedia of Television. New York: Times Books, 1977.
Flander, J. "NBC's Tim Russert: The Insider." Columbia Journalism Review (New York), 1992.
Jamieson, K. H. Dirty Politics: Deception, Distraction, and Democracy. New York: Oxford University Press, 1992.
Pokorny, Heidi. Meet the Press. (research report). New York: NBC News Information, 1994.
_______________. Timothy J. Russert: Moderator, Meet The Press; Senior Vice President And Washington Bureau Chief, NBC News. (research report). New York: NBC News Information, 1994.
Terrace, V ., editor. The Complete Encyclopedia of Television Programs 1947-1976. New York: Barnes, 1976.