Part 1—Our scribes are just like us: Today, we start our long-awaited, award-winning series, “The Houses of Journalist County.”
As we start, we assert a key point:
As far as we know, award-winning journalist Meredith Vieira is a perfectly decent person. We state that view for several reasons.
In our experience, most people are decent people. (This general fact is sometimes overlooked.)
We have no reason to suspect that Vieira is the exception. Indeed, in some respects, the opposite seems to be true.
Beyond that, Vieira’s image is built around the notion that she’s a good person—perhaps a very good person. In profiles of Vieira, her underlings, colleagues, investors and friends are constantly telling us this.
According to Vieira herself, Vieira is a little bit wacky and a little bit crazy, even perhaps a little bit raunchy and unable to shut her big mouth. But she’s also a kind and caring person—and she’s just like you.
Meredith Vieira is just like you! This claim has come into play across the nation as Vieira has promoted her new weekday program, which debuts next Monday.
The program will be called The Meredith Vieira Show. According to Vieira, Vieira didn’t want to call it that, being surprisingly shy.
Why would our award-winning series start with the roll-out of Vieira’s new show?
You’re asking an excellent question! Here’s why:
Last Sunday, Vieira was featured on the cover of Parade, a publication we sometimes discard. On this occasion, we were intrigued by the magazine’s cover, which showed a very casual Vieira standing casually in a place which looked a bit like Cape Cod.
Our suspicion was triggered and confirmed by the blurbs on the cover. These were the blurbs in question:
WHERE I’M FROMThe caption said that Vieira was standing “on Uncle Tim’s Bridge in Cape Cod.”
Meredith Vieira at home on Cape Cod
“I want people to see the real me”
Inside Parade, Vieira spoke with journalist Brooke Hauser at her “cottage” on the Cape, which she likes better than the Hamptons because the Hamptons are refined while the Cape is scruffy.
In this passage, Vieira explained the point of her new program:
HAUSER (8/24/14): On Sept. 8, she will debut as host of The Meredith Vieira Show, which she hopes will entertain as much as it will inspire. In addition to game-show elements and celebrity guests, the hour-long weekday program, produced and distributed by NBC Universal, will feature human interest stories and community calls to action. In one recurring segment, Vieira will pair a service dog with a family in need. In another, the show’s Pick Me Up Truck will roam the country looking for ways to lend a little support, whether by donating books to schools or connecting someone to a job.At this point, we’ll be perfectly honest. We didn’t exactly believe some of the insinuations and claims found in that passage.
“I want a show that, in its own little way, will make a difference—without being up on a soapbox,” says the multiple Emmy winner, who has been brainstorming ideas with her executive producer, Rich Sirop. The pair also worked on Who Wants to Be a Millionaire, which Vieira hosted for 11 years through a suffering economy. “When times were really bad, you could change someone’s life just by playing that game,” she says.
The name game aside, Vieira has been adamant about having the show reflect who she really is. “Meredith is exactly the same on-camera as she is off,” says Sirop. “She’s a kisser, and we joke that her lips carry more germs than a door handle, because she’s probably kissed 100 strangers before coming to work.” Originally, Vieira wanted to film at her house in New York’s Westchester County, “because I would never have to get dressed up,” she jokes. “My husband said, ‘Forget about it.’ But I said, ‘Then at least I want the authenticity of my furniture.’ The cats and the dog ruined it, and I just want people to see this is how I live, and probably the way a lot of people live.” So while the show will be filmed at 30 Rockefeller Plaza, the set has been designed to look like her family room. “I want people to feel they are, in a sense, coming into my home,” she says. “It’s a safe place where you talk, you laugh, you cry.”
We didn’t exactly believe that Vieira originally wanted the show to be filmed at her house. We didn’t exactly believe that anyone on the production end ever considered, or would have considered, that idea.
We didn’t exactly believe the idea that Vieira’s cats and dog have ruined her furniture. (The logic of that statement is more clear in other profiles.) Most of all, we didn’t exactly believe this:
“I just want people to see this is how I live, and probably the way a lot of people live.”
We didn’t exactly believe that the set for Vieira’s show will show us “how she lives.” Most of all, we didn’t exactly believe that Vieira lives “the way a lot of people live.”
We suspected that Vieira might actually live in one of The Houses of Journalist County—and we decided to check our suspicion out.
Does it actually matter how Vieira lives? On the whole, no—it doesn’t actually matter.
In another way, yes—it actually does.
Vieira is 60 years old. When she is profiled, she is often (accurately) described as an Emmy-winning journalist who has worked on major TV programs like 60 Minutes and Today.
That said, what kind of journalism are we likely to get from the people who live in The Houses of Journalist County? From people who have earned from five to twelve million dollars per year over the course of quite a few years, as is the case with Vieira?
Do such journalists really live “the way a lot of people live?” From their representations about themselves, are we likely to get a clear idea about “who they really are?”
More important, what kinds of journalism are such people likely to offer after years of living in Journalist County? When she should be at the height of her powers, Vieira seems to be offering “game-show elements and celebrity guests,” along with a truck which will “roam the country looking for ways” to donate books to schools.
That sounded like meager gruel to us. We decided to take a trip to The Houses of Journalist County.
How does Vieira actually live? What is her Cape Cod “cottage” like? How about the Westchester County home where she lives, by her own admission, “the way a lot of people live?”
Does she really lives “the way a lot of people live?” Will we see how she really lives if we watch her program?
Most importantly, what about Vieira’s journalism? What ever happened to that? Why would an award-winning journalist be wasting her time with “game-show elements” and celebrity guests, most of whom live right next door to The Houses of Journalist County?
Our interest in this award-winning series started with the creation of a new journalistic narrative. In this narrative, the Washington Post began telling the world that possible candidate Hillary Clinton just has way too much cash—cash right up the yin-yang.
The theme got a kick-start from Diane Sawyer, who lives in some of the finest houses in all of Journalist County. As we’ve noted, we thought it was a bit rich to see Sawyer creating this theme—and so, we started taking side trips in our own little truck to The Houses of Journalist County.
We found those side trips quite intriguing. In a slightly comical way, Parade’s profile of Vieira—and other profiles to which it led—captured some basic themes.
Over the next few weeks, we’ll show you what we’ve learned about some of The Houses of Journalist County. We’ll also ponder the journalism emerging from those addresses.
For years, we’ve been advancing a basic idea at this site: You can’t run a middle-class democracy with a multimillionaire press corps.
If memory serves, the idea began to take shape in the fall of 1999, when Mary McGrory was so concerned with Candidate Gore’s funny clothes, as opposed to his proposals for the nation’s health care (or those of Candidate Bradley).
The years since then have convinced us of a basic idea—this country rarely receive real journalism from the zip codes which contain The Houses of Journalist County. The promotion of Vieira’s new show lets us start to explore some of our basic themes.
We assume that Vieira is a perfectly decent person. As far as we know, she hasn’t been involved in building the new insider theme in which potential candidate Clinton is said to have way too much cash.
That said, she lives in The Houses of Journalist County. Based on our trips in our own little truck, we’d say it has started to show.
Tomorrow: A quick review of the houses
Also coming in our award-winning series:
Thursday: The Comical Bullroar of Journalist County
Friday: The (non-existent) journalism within that upper-end world
Coming next week: Jacob Weisberg’s prescient warning about Journalist County—in 1986!