Mark Whitaker to take over for Tim Russert

WASHINGTON — Naming Mark Whitaker its D.C. bureau chief, NBC News has filled one vacancy left by the recent death of Tim Russert.

Whitaker, a senior veep at NBC News and a former print journalist, takes over the job immediately, the net announced Monday.

“The enormity of filling this position was by no means lost on any of us, given the significance this job holds, particularly on the eve of an extraordinary presidential election,” said NBC News prexy Steve Capus in a statement. “But the truth is, (Whitaker) is the ideal candidate for the job, and that was evident the minute we took stock of potential replacements.

“Mark’s got all of the components that will assure his success: a commitment to journalistic integrity, political savvy, a keen eye for the future, and a management style that is inclusive and fair. He is exactly what the bureau needs.”

Bureau staffers aren’t so sure, according to a network insider.

“Mark is New York’s choice to come down and swing the ax that Tim always stopped from being swung,” the insider said, referring to network efforts to downsize that Russert had opposed. The mood inside the Washington bureau? “Trepidation over what changes he’s bringing.”

Betsy Fischer, exec producer of “Meet the Press,” and Chuck Todd, the net’s political director, were asked about their interest in the position, the insider says, but both said their plates were full with election coverage. Also under consideration were NBC Nightly News exec producer Alexandra Wallace and deputy D.C. bureau chief Wendy Wilkinson.

It’s not yet clear what role Whitaker will play in filling the other Russert vacancy — moderator of “MTP.” Former Nightly News anchor Tom Brokaw is substituting until a permanent successor is named.

Before joining NBC News in 2006, Whitaker was editor of Newsweek for eight years. He is married to Alexis Gelber, who oversees special projects for Newsweek but is said to have recently accepted a buyout offer.

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