When agent Richard Leibner’s phone was ringing off the hook one night last week, everyone was asking him the same thing: Was his longtime client David Gregory the next host of Meet the Press, or wasn’t he?
He called back, telling reporters he could neither confirm nor deny the report that first appeared on the Huffington Post.
Perhaps this was because his agency, N. S. Bienstock, wasn’t representing Mr. Gregory on the deal. So who exactly was aiding the ambitions of NBC’s robo-newsman?
A lot of people at the network thought Mr. Gregory had gone for the legendary beltway firepower of Robert Barnett, who has represented everyone from Bill Clinton and Barack Obama to Cokie Roberts and, yes, the late, great Tim Russert.
But the dark-horse theory favored some connection to Mr. Gregory’s wife, Beth Wilkinson. Unlike some in his position, Mr. Gregory had the advantage of being married to someone with powerful negotiating credentials and powerful friends. The attorney prosecuted the Oklahoma City bombing case and became quite a star in her own right.
On Monday morning, with the deal finally made public, white-shoe New York law firm Cravath, Swaine, & Moore posted a brief item on its Web site, crediting two of its partners—Eric Hilfers and Robert Joffe—for handling the negotiations.
On Tuesday afternoon, The Observer caught up with Mr. Joffe by phone. He said that the negotiations with NBC News took place over several days and went “relatively easily,” aside, of course, from the various leaks to the media. As far as the terms and length of the contract, Mr. Joffe declined to discuss specifics.
Mr. Joffe said he first met Mr. Gregory’s wife shortly after she became general counsel at Fannie Mae in 2005 (Mr. Joffe periodically advises Fannie Mae’s directors).
Shortly thereafter, Mr. Joffe met Mr. Gregory for the first time, in Nantucket, where both families own summer houses. Mr. Joffe fondly recalled an evening when Mr. Gregory and his wife came over to his house for cocktails. Mr. Joffe said his son, who is a New York City school teacher, was thrilled to meet the real-life walking-talking TV journalist.
“My kids are particularly interested in national politics,” said Mr. Joffe. “I think meeting David was of more significance than if they had met someone from a soap opera. Although sometimes, our national politics does bear some resemblance to a soap opera.”
To say nothing of the men and women of television who cover them!
So will the relationship with Mr. Gregory continue beyond the inevitable future cranberry-and-vodka cocktails in Nantucket? “We’ll certainly be friends,” said Mr. Joffe. “To the extent that he needs an adviser, I’m hopeful he’ll continue to call on me.”
And what of Mr. Gregory’s future relationship with Mr. Leibner, the über TV agent? He hadn’t returned a phone message before press time.