2006 Hot List: David Gregory

Jun 26, 2006  •  Post A Comment

David Gregory’s family connections helped him get a foot in the door of TV news, but they weren’t exactly helpful after he landed his first job.

As news director at KGUN-TV in Tucson, Ariz., Ray Depa had just finished laying off several members of his newsroom staff when his boss called him in and told him that the college-age son of a friend was to be hired as a paid intern for the summer.

Mr. Depa’s reaction? “You’ve got to be kidding me. This kid will be eaten alive.”

“We gave him every rotten job we could think of,” Mr. Depa recalled recently.

But Mr. Gregory did them cheerfully and well. The child of privilege-his father, Don Gregory, produced many Broadway vehicles-did not arrive with silver spoon in mouth and attitude flag flying. Instead, he rented a horrid “dive” of an apartment and bought a bicycle to ride to and from work, Mr. Depa said.

As the summer wore on, Mr. Gregory began to get real assignments instead of hazing.

He remembers himself being “certainly not very polished, but I was ambitious.”

Mr. Depa recalled that Mr. Gregory proved he “just had all the tools.”

When he headed back to American University, where he was studying international affairs, it was with an assignment to string from Washington for KGUN. Mr. Gregory didn’t just wait for the station to call with assignments. “He actually worked the beat,” Mr. Depa said.

Fast-forward, past stops at KCRA-TV in Sacramento and NBC’s bureaus in Los Angeles and Chicago, to 2006. Mr. Gregory has been with NBC News for more than 10 years. He has been chief White House correspondent six years. He has covered nearly every major story of the past decade-the Tyndall Report, keeper of such statistics, ranked him as the most utilized network correspondent during the 2004 presidential campaign.

He has filled in for every anchor who makes the NBC News family today’s TV news dynasty, from “Today’s” smooth Matt Lauer and “Hardball’s” hyper-talking Chris Matthews to “Meet the Press” kingpin Tim Russert and flagship anchor Brian Williams. He regularly proves himself fearless and funny as a voice on the phone on Don Imus’ radio and MSNBC show.

His reluctance to take no answer for an answer got him mischaracterized as the Bush press corps’ Sam Donaldson by the Washington Post after a testy exchange with former White House Press Secretary Scott McClellan. However, Mr. Gregory, who has admitted he might have lost some of his characteristic politesse for a moment, said, “I think anyone should be tough with them. This is a White House that has chosen the path of being very tightfisted with the press.”

As for the Donaldson comparisons, Mr. Gregory has been a lot grayer for a lot longer than the ambiguously topped Mr. Donaldson. At 6-foot-5, the lanky Mr. Gregory is much taller. He was a 6-footer by the eighth grade. He admits to having been, on occasion, “afraid I was too tall for TV.”

“NBC Nightly News” anchor Brian Williams was Mr. Gregory’s predecessor at the White House. “I remember the stresses of just serving one broadcast every evening. David bears up well under a mountain of information and a day’s worth of deadlines,” Mr. Williams said.

“Hardball” executive producer Tammy Haddad said Mr. Gregory has the invaluable ability to “ask a question that gets you somewhere unexpected” and to “give analysis without opinion, something difficult for anyone to do, much less someone covering the White House.”

He and wife Beth Wilkinson, a prosecutor in the Oklahoma City bombing and now an executive and general counsel with Fannie Mae, define “power couple” in D.C., particularly now that the federal home lender is facing questions about its accounting. Ms. Wilkinson taught Mr. Gregory a particularly valuable lesson in how to keep pillow talk from biting one on the butt.

She set him up, tested him by feeding him some bogus information and waiting for it to come back to her after he gave in to the urge to pass it on at NBC News.

“It’s extremely difficult to get information out of her,” Mr. Gregory says with understatement.

The Lowdown

Title: Chief White House correspondent, NBC News

Date of birth: Aug. 24, 1970

Place of birth: Los Angeles

Who knew?

“I arrange all the playdates for my 3-year-old son,” said the father of three, whose other children are 11-month-old twins-a boy and a girl. “I have actually arranged playdates while I’m overseas, traveling with Bush.” At such times, he said, e-mail is particularly helpful.