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Gregory Gets Caught in Political Battle

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NEW YORK (AP) _ In some circles, having a Web site devoted to getting you fired could be proof that you've really arrived. NBC News chief White House correspondent David Gregory admits he's clicked on firedavidgregory.com. How could he resist? Presumably he wasn't among the 2,839 visitors who, through Friday, had signed a petition urging his removal.

``People have their own political views and they view me through that lens and they go on the attack,'' Gregory said. ``I think that's kind of part of the territory.''

What put the target on Gregory's back was his anger at White House press secretary Scott McClellan shortly after Vice President Dick Cheney's shooting accident last month. Their widely-reported exchange made Gregory a symbol for administration supporters who believe the White House press corps is too aggressive.

The incident did nothing, however, to dim his rising star at NBC News. Gregory, 35, fills in this week for Matt Lauer on the ``Today'' show.

``People would be gravely mistaken to confuse his aggressive reporting with ideology,'' said NBC anchor Brian Williams, who calls Gregory ``appropriately skeptical'' in his work.

The flare-up with McClellan came during an especially tense time, with the White House facing questions about whether the public should have been notified more quickly that the vice president had shot a friend while hunting.

McClellan appeared to object to Gregory's tone during a Feb. 13 question-and-answer session, saying ``David, hold on ... the cameras aren't on right now.''

That set Gregory off. ``Don't accuse me of trying to pose to the cameras,'' he responded. ``Don't be a jerk to me personally when I'm asking you a serious question.''

They continued the back-and-forth, with McClellan urging Gregory to ``calm down'' and the reporter saying he was angry because his question wasn't being answered.

Gregory, who has covered both of President Bush's campaigns and his presidency, said he realized right away that he had provided the perfect example for an administration that wanted to deflect attention from an embarrassing story by portraying the White House press corps as petulant because it did not get the story first.

And, by losing his cool, he had no one else to blame. He later apologized.

Gregory wasn't pressured by NBC to apologize, said Williams, who characterized it as a ``gut call'' by the correspondent.

``I just think that I should set my own standards about how I should conduct myself,'' Gregory said during an interview last week. ``I don't listen to the people who think that I'm horrible and I don't listen to people who think that I'm a hero ... I just made the decision that you shouldn't talk that way. When you're in my position, you shouldn't lose your temper.''

His Internet critics said Gregory ``has done damage to NBC News' reputation and the reputation of journalism as a whole. Journalists should report the story, not become part of it.'' The Web site's organizers don't identify themselves, and didn't respond to e-mailed inquiries about their effort.

Reporter have to walk a fine line between aggressive reporting and aggressive behavior, said Robert Lichter, president of the Washington-based Center for Media and Public Affairs.

``Like Dan Rather, (Gregory) just does his job but does it in a way that irritates some people,'' he said. ``I don't think he's trying to stand out, he just does so naturally. He has to recognize that as a weakness as well as a strength.''

While Gregory regrets his behavior in that one instance, he makes no apologies for aggressive reporting. Cheney, in this case, ``acted as if he had something to hide,'' he wrote in a Web log. He explains in passionate terms how the pursuit of information isn't always pretty, and is the same no matter what the politics of the administration. People who want to judge his fairness should look at the finished product, he said.

The White House press corps is frustrated with the administration, but Gregory doesn't believe it's personal. He considers the president ``a very good guy, very personable and funny.''

``They do the best they can and we do the best we can,'' he told The Associated Press. ``By that, I mean they do the best they can to maintain discipline, message discipline and keep information in close hold where they think it's appropriate. We do the best we can to get information.

``I think the frustration comes out when the press secretary is there to engage the public'' and the White House press operation doesn't, he said. ``They simply don't provide information or they don't acknowledge the obvious. I think that hurts them.''

Gregory recognizes that reporters are going to get caught in the middle during a politically polarized time. It happens on both sides; he strongly disputes a notion among Bush's critics that the press corps failed in the months before the Iraq war started.

A thoughtful analysis will reveal that tough and appropriate questions were asked, he said.

``What I worry about is that there is this collective judgment being made in retrospect that is driven by a political view of whether the war was appropriate in the first place and what's happened since,'' he said.

The 6-foot-5 Gregory, who grew up in Los Angeles, is married to a lawyer and has three children, including infant twins. He's tall in a way that startles in person _ much like another NBC personality, Conan O'Brien. Don Imus radio listeners know him as a regular guest with a sense of humor that can stand up in that rough-and-tumble environment.

Showing a well-rounded personality can't hurt his future prospects, particularly when displayed in a venue that mixes the serious and silly like ``Today.''

``It's just not something that I think about,'' he said. ``There are a lot of great jobs at the network. I've got one of them. I want to keep doing it, keep growing at the network and do lots of different things.''
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