Whitaker’s Long Distance Call-Up to the DC Bureau

By Chris Ariens Comment

Gail Shister
TVNewser Columnist

Whitaker_7.29.jpgL’amour, toujours l’amour.

Mark Whitaker was attending a cousin’s wedding outside Provence, France, when NBC News boss Steve Capus called to offer him the Washington bureau chief job.

“I didn’t want him interrupting me at the church, so I called him back between the wedding and the reception,” Whitaker says. “It was a little surreal.”

(Quick aside: His mother was born in France; he has 21 French cousins.)

Whitaker, 50, who joined NBC in May ’07 as senior vice president after a distinguished career at Newsweek, yesterday officially became chief of the Washington bureau.

His executive purview will include “Meet the Press” as well as all of NBC’s political coverage. In addition, he’ll appear occasionally as an on-air analyst. He keeps his senior v.p. title.

Whitaker fills a vacancy left by the sudden death of beloved Tim Russert in June. Russert’s office will stay intact and the bureau “is going to be Tim’s forever,” says Capus.

“Mark’s got awfully big shoes to fill. He’s the right guy at the right time to run this bureau.” (For the record, Whitaker wears a 12 1/2.)

The burning question, of course, is who will succeed Russert as moderator of ‘MTP.’ With Tom Brokaw filling in through the election, “We have some time to look at our options,” Capus says.

One of them won’t be Whitaker. “I don’t think I want to get in the pool with the sharks going after that job,” he says.

But seriously, folks, “I love working with reporters,” says Whitaker. “It was always my greatest pleasure at Newsweek. It’s appropriate for the bureau chief to have some on-air role, but at the moment it’s just a small part of the challenge ahead.”

It’s no challenge for him to relocate from New York to our nation’s capital, he says.

“In the past year, I’ve come to appreciate that the journalistic heart of NBC is in Washington. It’s a very exciting place to be now. Whoever wins the election, it will be a great story.”

Speaking of elections and great stories, smart money says Russert’s son, Luke, 22, will join NBC’s coverage. Look for the announcement soon.