At Ease With the President
NBC's David Gregory shares his experiences with young reporters
NBC Senior White House Correspondent David Gregory with Scholastic Kid Reporter Siena Rafter. (Photo courtesy Siena Rafter.)
As David Gregory walked into the NBC green room, I looked up—ALL the way up. I quickly realized why President George W. Bush calls him "Stretch!" The 6'5" Senior White House Correspondent for NBC was the only TV journalist to accompany the President on his tour of Ground Zero in New York City just three days after the September 11 terrorist attacks. That walk through the rubble was something he will always remember.
"I saw firefighters look at the President, and he looked back at them and they flashed him a big thumbs up and he gave it back to them, and that was pretty emotional," he said. "I had to take a moment [on the air] to 'pull it together.'"
When I realized that Gregory must have a special relationship with the most powerful leader in the free world, I began to really look forward to my interview with him.
We met on "The Today Show" at Rockefeller Center in New York City. Gregory regularly substitutes for Matt Lauer as a "Today Show" host. He also takes over on "Meet the Press" for Tim Russert, and has been a substitute weekend anchor on "NBC Nightly News." He works out of the White House in Washington, D.C., so he does not have an office in New York.
For our interview, we squeezed into a small room used by "The Today Show" crew to send faxes, print documents, and answer emails. Even slumped down in a computer desk chair, Gregory was much taller than me. He was extremely friendly and very interesting and comfortable to talk to.
I first wanted to know how old he was when he knew he wanted to become a reporter.
"I was 15 when I decided I wanted to become a journalist," he said. "I was pretty young. I started reading some books about journalists. I think at that point I started focusing on the idea that I wanted to be in network news."
His parents were supportive of his career decision. "I remember when I was 17—right before I graduated high school—my dad and I had a conversation about how to do it, how to navigate it, how to pursue what I wanted to do," he said.
He got his first reporting job the summer he was 18 when he went to work for KGUN-TV in Tucson, Arizona. He later went to work for NBC's west coast affiliate KCRA-TV in Sacramento.
He has been with NBC News since 1995. He began covering the Bush presidency in February 2001, right after the 43rd President took office.
I wanted to know how it felt to be given a nickname by the President. Does it affect his relationship with him as a journalist?
"I think any of the aspects of having a relationship with the President—which I do—is interesting," he said. "It's fun in a way, but you also have to recognize that there are limits to it, I'm still there to have a professional relationship with him."
The President has gotten angry with Gregory at times for his aggressive questions. Once, at a press conference with Bush and then-President of France Jacques Chirac, Gregory addressed Chirac in French. Bush didn't like the question, and he seemed to think Gregory was showing off by speaking in a second language. His testy response to Gregory made the news.
Gregory said he has not regretted any questions he has asked any of the people he has interviewed in his job.
"There are times I've regretted how I've asked [a question]," he said. "Sometimes I can be aggressive."
For example, he was criticized once for pointing out on TV that Senator Hillary Clinton had not answered one of his questions to her. Some viewers thought he was rude, he said. But did Senator Clinton think so?
"I don't think she cares whether I'm rude or not," Gregory said. "She's used to people like me. And when I say 'people like me,' I mean journalists who cover politicians—they question them differently."
His aggressive hard-news persona got him in trouble early on in his career. It happened his first day on his first job during an interview with the Mayor of Albuquerque, New Mexico.
"I asked [the mayor] some questions about the police union, which was having a disagreement with him," Gregory said. "He got very angry, and said, 'This interview is over,' and stomped out of the room. The next day I saw him and I tried to ask him a couple of questions and he grabbed my hand and said, 'You are nothing but disgusting slime, leave me alone.' There was a big headline in the afternoon paper that said, 'Disgusting Slime.'"
The hard-hitting journalist has a soft side, too. On "The Today Show," he fits right in yukking it up with Al Roker, Meredith Vieira, and Ann Curry. He can do both hard and soft news. He can cover major trials, talk national and international policy issues, and help cook up the latest seasonal dishes on air.
He's only 38 years old, but already he's traveled around the globe visiting most of the world's countries with the President and other dignitaries. I decided I better get some advice from him about how to be a better journalist while I had the chance! This is what he shared with me.
DAVID GREGORY'S TIPS FOR YOUNG JOURNALISTS
- Learn how to write clearly and well.
- Learn how to think critically, to analyze a set of facts, and ask questions on something you observe.
- Learn as much as you can about history!
- Always ask yourself before an interview why the person is talking to you in the first place. Think about their motivation? Try to figure out why and that will color what they tell you.
- Read as much as you can!
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