Following the mandate of NBC News prexy Andy Lack, “NBC Nightly News” and “Today” gave the so-called “trial of the century” much more airtime than the competition at ABC and CBS did. It has been an open secret inside the news division that it was a decision that particularly rankled the Washington Bureau, where “Meet the Press” moderator Tim Russert is bureau chief. Last September in New Orleans, when Lack addressed the Radio-Television News Directors annual confab and admonished the assembled for wallowing in the sensational, and thus contributing to the “dumbing down” of America, some of his D.C. troops thought it was, in the words of one veteran NBC producer, “a classic case of the pot calling the kettle black.”
At a breakfast with reporters in a posh suite at the Hotel Rhiga, Russert is not about to comment on any rift between D.C. and 30 Rock; however, he does say one of his proudest accomplishments of the last year was that his Sunday Beltway chatfest never did an edition on the O.J. Simpson murder trial. “You look at the ratings (“This Week With David Brinkley”) got when they did an O J . show and the temptation is there, ” says Russert. “But if you’re doing O.J., you’re not doing Bosnia, Haiti, the budget or the health-care crisis.”
Russert has said in the past that he has the best job in the world. He seems genuinely pumped up with an election year about to begin. Rumors persist that news brass at ABC and CBS have made discreet inquiries about his services. Mr. “Meet the Press” claims ignorance.